Brazil: More than just sweet liquor, sexy dancing, and sunshine

Cachaa. Samba. The Beach. Prior to my visit, these were my sole associations with Brazil. But, after travelling throughout to three different cities over the period of a month, I have come to the conclusion that there is much more to this country than caipirinhas! New discoveries included: jaca, a sticky, dense and intensely sweet fruit; brigadeiro, a chocolate concoction far better than any Parisian pastry; and churrascaria, a Brazilian “barbeque” that features an endless variety of meat.

Brasil bikini bottomsAlthough eating their typical local dishes and tasting the unknown is one of my favourite ways to really get a feel for a country, scoping out what people wear and exploring shops tops it all for me. When it came to identifying trends and styles in Brazil, each city I visited provided variations on personal flair.

Starting in the fourth biggest city in the world, I experienced slight culture shock upon landing in So Paulo. I had ignorantly assumed that all Brazilians would be deeply tanned and styled with long, dark flowing hair. Although this was the case for many, there has been and continues to be massive amounts of emigrants relocating to Brazil, particularly from Europe and Africa. Consequently, a great deal of cultural blending has taken place, and this has lead to many different styles of dress merging together; nowhere is this more evident than in such a large and urban city as So Paulo. European cars, African musical influences, and Asian neighbourhoods all contribute to create a mish-mash of culture and style.

Being such a spread-out and diverse city, the shopping opportunities were accordingly boundless. Enormous, 10 floor shopping malls are typically where any Paulista (resident of So Paulo) will go to blow their Reals (Brazilian currency: $1 CDN = R$1.7). Unfortunately, despite for once the conversion of currency being in my favour, I was unable to afford nearly everything in Brazil. A toothbrush, for example, runs around R$17 ($10 CDN); the price of clothing items were even more outrageous! Regardless of how tempting the trendy, sexy platform shoes were (and there were PLENTY; Brazil is famous for their stylish footwear) or how cute the fun and quirky jewellery was, the “sticker shock” in So Paulo was simply too large to shell out for.

By cheaping it out on airfare, and taking a nine hour overnight bus to my next destination, Rio de Janeiro, I was able to afford a few small shopping luxuriesalthough barely. Being a coastal city, the vibe in Rio is much more laid-back, and this is reflected in the Carioca's (a native of Rio) style and shopping habits. Unlike So Paulo, stores line the streets of Rio, and the neighbourhoods closest to the beach are where the best shopping is found.

Copacabana is home to the largest Haviana's store I've ever come across, and both teeny bikinis and long, colourful dresses can easily be found in one of the many boutiques in this area. Ipanema and Leblon are geared towards a more “sophisticated” shopping experience, while Brazilian favourites, such as: Maria Filo and Cantao, boast lightweight, drop-crotch khakis and bright, loose tanks.

My final stop, Natal, was a city practically on the equator, and the heat, especially at this time of year (the height of their summer), was almost crushing. Understandably then, spending a day in the ocean is necessary for one's sanity. Those not lucky enough to bum around on the beach all day, though, can easily fool you into thinking they have, as walking around in a uniform composed of a bikini top and shorts is a common sight, even in the city. However, night time is a whole different story; the lack of effort put in during the day was/is more than made up for after dark.

With the temperature still hovering in the mid 30s, a pair of satin or trendy, military-inspired shorts paired with a simple tank top, and dressed up with some heels evokes an understated elegance.

After what felt like an eternity of travelling, I have finally made it back home, and sadly traded sand for snow, and a tropical breeze for icy winds. Surprisingly though, I am not as displeased as I thought I would be. It's good to not have sand in my hair, for the first time in a month, and I genuinely missed wearing sweaters... knits feel so much better than wet bathing suits!