May 12

Rio de Janeiro – What a city! – Part 1

Here are some of the things that we have experienced in Rio. Some made us laugh out loud, some were just interesting and others made us smile. There are also those that disgusted us and those that were thoroughly delightful. I’ll let you decide for yourself which are which.


You don’t need to find a roller coaster in Rio for a thrill ride. The normal bus service will do just nicely. You get on at your own peril. The first important thing is to hail the bus while simultaneously keeping from being run over. It stops REALLY fast. There are always two officials in the bus, the driver and someone who checks that you pay. The bus will stop to let you climb aboard, but will pull away immediately while you are still trying to buy a ticket. To pass the ticket person, you need to use a turnstile. This turnstile is very narrow and moves very jerkily. It also never moves when you expect it to. This means that while the bus screeches around the corner, you are slammed into it. It is even worse when you have a big bag or a rugsack. There is not enough place for you, let alone your baggage. Even Sophia has a good fight with this monster whenever we board the bus.

Most of the city busses are air-conditioned and in the warm, sweltering air, this is a big bonus. You can actually be cool as you hang on for dear life. It is important to find a seat as soon as possible. This entails rocking to and fro in the isle, with your hand/s clenched around the nearest seat and your feet trying to play catch-up. If you actually find a seat, you might at some point, according to the bus-rules, have to vacate it to the following persons: mothers with small babies, pregnant ladies, the elderly, the handicapped and best of all, the obese person!


It really is quite a challenge to ride per bus, but there must be more to it than meets the eye, as it is one of our family’s favourite things to do!

Oh, one last thing about the bus. We always pay for 6 people. On the one bus, the ticket person used a pre-written table to read off what amount six people need to pay.


All the stores in Rio seem to close with a roll-down, corrugated iron, garage door. Once these are rolled close, there are no notices or adverts on the outside to hint at the type of store hidden inside. These doors are also usually the size of a garage door. When you walk through a shopping district after business hours, it looks as if you are in an industrial area with lots of parking.

These same garage doors give the impression that the stores are small, but most of them open up to the back into fairly large premises. Some of these are even really huge. We will never forget our first impression of the Mundial Supermacado (Supermarket) in Botofoga. First, there are just the tills and then behind them you glimpse the shelves with packaged foodstuff. When you pass these, you suddenly realise that there is a big fruit and vegetable section with cheese and butter behind this… and…. just as you think that is the end, the shop opens up even more to reveal the frozen food section, the butchery and the bakery in the back corner.


There has never been a time that we visited the Mundial Supermacado that it was not packed with people. We have tried to go at different times and different days. Friday afternoons were the worst and Monday mornings the best, but never was it nice and quiet. The isles are really narrow and there are many traffic jams as people do not manage to pass each other. One morning I witnessed a full blown shouting match between two women. Neither of them were willing to back down and I was quite glad that our Portuguese did not allow us to follow the expressions..

My shopping strategy has been to park the trolley in a calm zone and let the girls run to and fro, from me to the trolley with the purchases. It is also a smart move to let someone queue for you ahead of time as queueing can take up as much time as shopping. Do not get into the queue for the elderly though. Frans did this once by accident and after the umpteenth elderly person told him to let them go before him, he realised that he will never get to the front this way. There are many elderly people in Rio, especially as soon as you get to the till.

This is one of the calmer areas where you can park your trolley. They always pack their fruit and veg in these wonderful stacks.

This is one of the calmer areas where you can park your trolley. They always pack their fruit and veg in these wonderful stacks.


While visiting the Jardim de Botanica (Botanical Gardens) after church one Sunday afternoon, we met with a strange phenomenon. Everywhere we looked, there were young pregnant ladies having their photos taken. All of them posed in bikini tops matched with skirts or flowy pants. They almost always had flowers in their hair. It was very obvious that the pregnant belly had to show as much as possible. There was often a little girl or boy with the pregnant lady. I don’t think our girls have ever seen an uncovered pregnant belly before, so this was quite the experience. We speculated whether there was some fertility ritual behind this, but eventually, we found that it’s just the cool, fashionable thing at the moment : have a professional Baby Album made starting with the stages of pregnancy. With later outings, we saw more pregnant ladies posing in other picturesque settings all over Rio.

We felt too embarrassed to take pictures of half dressed pregnant ladies, so here is Marike in one of the settings they liked. The bamboo forest.

We felt too embarrassed to take pictures of half dressed pregnant ladies, so here is Marike in one of the settings they liked. The bamboo forest.


Although my girls love going barefoot whenever they can, we all wear our shoes ALL THE TIME while walking about in Rio. Here the people not only spit onto the paving, but we’ve seen several people blow their noses onto the ground. You close one nostril and then blow very hard out of the other to get rid of the inconveniences. All this, while bending slightly at the hip.


Brazilian people do NOT eat with their hands. They always use utensils. We visited a pizza parlour for a friends’ birthday party and could observe the Brazilians closely. They sit with the pizza between them on the table while the waiter gives it some quick slashes this way and that. The end result is many little parallelogram shaped pieces that they proceed to eat with a knife and fork. The part that really upset Karin Jnr. the most, was that they leave the best part – the crust – on the plate!

Another example of this was when we toured City Centre on a weekday. It is the business district of Rio and many people eat at snack bars for lunch. We took advantage of the fact that we had a tour guide to join in this custom. Our normal method is to just point at something and show with fingers how many we wanted. Allen helped us choose because he could tell us what exactly it was we were ordering and answer all our questions. We ordered 6 little snacky things – very yummy – and now came the surprise part. Right there, you receive a plate with your order and a knife and fork. Then, you proceed to eat your food at the counter, while standing up. All around us other people were eating at the counter, so we did too. I think Sophia had the hardest time, as she couldn’t quite reach.DSC05501


The pavements in Rio are really interesting. They are made out of tiny little black and white blocks laid out in patterns. They are so typical of Rio that the patterns are often depicted on the t-shirts, bags and other curious sold here. Our one-time tour guide Allen, told us that these pavement blocks were imported all the way from Portugal.

Typical Ipenama pattern.

Typical Ipanema pattern.


When you quickly scan the traffic in Rio, you see only two types of vehicles. Yellow taxi-cabs and buses. This is because the other cars are in minority, but also because most other cars in Rio are either black or charcoal or some similar colouring. They just blend in.

The first time we took a taxi, we realised that we probably do NOT want to be driving our own car through this town. My one friend Nancy puts it this way: Traffic in Rio is like water. If the car can fit in, regardless of the lanes or the rules, it will. It kinda flows from point to point. What this means is that your taxi will often pass another vehicle with only centimetres to spare. They especially like doing this going around curves. Another friend told us about how their taxi driver decided that he could flow forward a little right underneath the back corner of a truck and out again. They do Formula1-racing to catch up to the cars in front, slam on the brakes at the last minute….. and then…. sit sedately in the traffic.

There always seems to be traffic in Rio when we take the taxi. This means that you sit while going nowhere, while the metre ticks on. Very frustrating, especially as you don’t know enough of the language to find out if this is indeed the best road.

Only four people are allowed in a taxi. We, as a family of six, therefore, need two. Frans always takes two girls with him and I take the other two. He sits next to the driver and switches on the GPS on his tablet. This means that although he leaves after me, he always gets there before me AND pays less. Go figure…. 🙂

At Coconut stalls in the street you can buy a green coconut to drink from. They open it with a type of drilling instrument, stick a straw in and you have a drink! Very refreshing! I love the taste, but some of the kids prefer eating out the shell after its empty.
It is not that easy to open. Previously, the vendor would open it for you with a machete. This seems to be against the law now. Well, this specific time a guy offered to open it for us anyway. He just bashed it against the concrete wall until it gave way.

It might not look it, but it was melting hot outside.

It might not look it, but it was melting hot outside.

This is the part Sophia likes best.

This is the part Sophia likes best.


Women do not need to feel harassed during peak hour on the Metro Trains. In Rio they have designated cars for women only. These are painted pink and the corresponding platform area is also marked in pink. We travelled outside of rush hour, so Frans could join his 5 women in their pink car.


Cariocas (native Rio de Janeirios) love to party! They enjoy loud music and dancing whenever they can. We have often had some “party boat” pass closely by us at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning at our anchorage in Botafogo Bay.

They really love being with other people. If you see a deserted beach, you might say to yourself : “Ah! How nice, so much space!” Pretty soon, however, a Carioca will come and sit right next to you. They would not sit on an empty beach, but now it is not empty anymore!

We love telling the story of our trip to Ilha Grande. Before actually being able to go, (because we were still waiting for the engine), we were asking all kinds of people for advise. We really wanted to go over the Easter weekend, so much of the discussion was on how to set about doing this.

A lovely Belgium couple we met at church said the following: It will be really crowded on Easter Weekend. All the Karoakes go their for the day. We would be fine, however, if we left our anchorage before 10:00 and then only came back after 17:00. The motor yachts with their many people and loud music do not stay overnight. This way we could avoid the crowds.

The Brazilian man who helped us find a mechanic and acted as our interpreter, was equally helpful. He told Frans that it would be a super idea to go over Easter. That was when the real partying happened. He would get a map and show him where the best party spots were with the loudest music and the most girls. We MUST go to these places if we were going to have any fun!

We ended up enjoying both worlds. We missed out on Easter, but we were there on the following long weekend and witnessed Carioca partying at its best. We were the only women in full bathing suits. All Carioca women wear bikinis. The motor yachts “park” on the beaches like cars. They anchor with two anchors just off the beach. The yachts face seaward and the passengers toward the land. Not many of them actually swim, but they do all seem to have a fine time.

During the week, we had the islands pretty much to ourselves. There were a few other yachts and the taxi boats, but it was really peaceful and quiet.


Before and during Easter, the shops suddenly fill up with these strange packages. They are all the same shape and size and wrapped in the same way – only in different, shiny wrapping paper. The shops also all seem to hang these from the roofs, creating an artificial ceiling.

We bought one to see what they contained – and they are pretty much big chocolate eggs with some kind of surprise inside. (Think upmarket MacDonald toy). The girls were fortunate to receive one each from friends, so we could explore this more clearly.


Chocolate excites Karin J.

Chocolate excites Karin J.

Easter dinner at the De Vries home (they are still waiting for their furniture shipment). You can see 3 of the Easter Egg gifts.

Easter dinner at the De Vries home (they are still waiting for their furniture shipment). You can see 3 of the Easter Egg gifts.

Inside the girls’ gifts respectively were a tiny soft toy dog, a tinkerbell figurine, lallaloopsie figurine and a Cinderella figurine with two removable dresses.


In Rio it is customarily to greet each other with two “air kisses” This means that you hold your own cheek close to the other person’s cheek and kiss the air around there, trying to avoid kissing their ear. This is then repeated on the other side. If you come from São Paulo however, you only do this once. You WILL look stupid if you try to “air kiss” while the other person is not also participating.

Frans was very relieved to find that the men are not expected to “air kiss” other men.

As a whole, this is actually quite a nice way of greeting. That is, if you do it right 🙂


As you might have read in Sophia’s blog. The streets in Rio stink.

Sophia says she cannot breath, but that can also be attributed to the very high humidity.

Apart from that, she is right. They do stink! Not everywhere, but often.

It is hard to know whether this is just due to bad management of sewage in general or the unhealthy practises of inhabitants. The smell around some corners and crevices indicate that it is at least sometimes the latter.

The water around Rio  also seem to reek. It is very polluted in many areas and we suspect some sewage draining directly into the bay. In fact, the only beaches where swimming is really encouraged, are the outside beaches that face the sea and not the bay.





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  1. Trish Roberts

    so interesting!! Keep blogging!! Love to hear how you are all doing!!

  2. Justine Felton

    Thank you so much for your detailed blog,it is such a pleasure to read.
    We would all love to see more photos,especially of where you are now,.

  3. Moira Mclauchlan

    To the Van Zyl Family, I hope we get to see you before you leave (again). Perhaps in Church on Sunday 24th as I cannot make it on Friday for coffee. If not, please keep your blog up to speed – will be lovely to see how you’re getting on! In any case, it was a real pleasure meeting you guys. Look us up whenever you’re back in town.

  4. Ouma Elsie

    Dit klinkv asof julle al die dinge in Rio gate uit geniet! Liefde Ouma

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