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  • Writer's pictureDawnelle Salant

On Sundays in Gloria, Rio’s oldest residential neighbourhood near Flamengo, there is a fantastic Farmer’s Market. Free Walker Tours,, does a guided food tour here every Sunday. It’s not free, it’s 80 reals, which is just under $20 Canadian, but it’s worth every penny and it includes all the food you eat on the tour. When we meet our guide, she hands us a menu that gives us some choice of what food we will be eating today. Our first stop is pastel and sugar cane juice. I don’t tend to eat street food when I travel, for obvious reasons, but with a seasoned guide, I feel confident that they know what is safe and what is not. The pastel - Asian dough stuffed with your choice of filling - is delicious. The pastry is crispy and steaming hot and the beef inside is perfect. The sugar cane juice is much different than I expected, it’s sweet, but not sickly sweet. We add some lime to make it a bit more tart, and I down the cold liquid in the morning heat. Our guide tells us that pastel and sugar cane juice are a typical Brazilian breakfast at a market like this.

We sample various fruits as we wander along the stalls - guava - which is slightly sweet but full of hard round seeds that ruin it for me. The mango is perfection, papaya is a bit meh but I love the jackfruit that we try. I’ve never even heard of it- it’s hard to explain the taste - chewy white flesh surrounds a hard seed, almost like a nut, and at first it reminds me of pineapple, but then I taste bubble gum. Despite its unique flavour, I quite like it. We see avocados the size of eggplants, (see photo) endless strawberries, passionfruit and fresh looking vegetables. It surprises me to see the Visa sign on many of the stalls.

Our next taste of real Brazilian food is tapioca. The cassava or manioc root is a main staple of the diet here and many different flours are made from this root. The famous pao de quiejo (delicious cheese balls) are made from this as well. It is gluten free so almost anyone can eat it. Tapioca is a pancake like meal made from cassava flour that is folded over any toppings you choose. Our guide recommends banana, coconut and cheese, which is very common here in Brazil. I’m a little concerned how these flavours will go together, but it’s surprisingly delicious. I’d actually order this again. We also drink coconut water straight from the coconut, and I’m grateful for this hydration. It’s only 28 degrees, but it’s so humid here that the sweat is pouring off me.

Our last stop is for something called Acaraje. This is how the menu describes it; “beans ball, deep fried in Dende (palm oil), stuffed with Vatapa (paste made of bread, shrimp and coconut milk), Caruru (okra stew), small sun dried shrimps, diced tomatoes, onions, fresh coriander and hot pepper sauce.” I’m so full by this time that I only try a bite, and it’s interesting - not good, not bad, just - different. We skipped the shrimp because they still had their houses on, and even the Colombian girl beside us leaves those on her napkin. I’m glad I tried it, but I definitely won’t be ordering those again.

This tour is one of my favourites so far. It forces me to try things I never would try, get more in touch with real Rio and meet new people. I love this market, I will definitely be coming back here over the next few weeks. I am so glad that I have all this time here in my favourite city - there is so much more to Rio than all the major tourist sites - which are spectacular, don’t get me wrong. But I love seeing how Cariocas live, what they do on weekends, and where they go to socialize. At the end of the tour, we stop for a beer in Lapa, and as a samba band plays, I watch the Carnaval goers dance by in their costumes. On the way home on the subway, we are treated to a real show by some Carnaval partiers. They are in full costumes, and they’ve brought their own beatbox with them so they don’t have to stop partying on the way home. It’s obvious they’ve been drinking, and even though they are loud, they are not (that) obnoxious. They are just having a good time. A really good time. Everyone is smiling at them; if this happened at home, people would be changing trains and making a big deal out of their behaviour. They dance and sing at the top of their lungs, and then, just before our stop, one of the guys uses the pole that people use to steady themselves as a dance partner. It’s hilarious and I know I need to document this so I take a video. This is the kind of thing you need to see to appreciate. It’s something I will never forget. The joy on their faces, the people enjoying watching them enjoying themselves and the atmosphere of fun that they have created on the subway, of all places, is pure Rio. (I also saw a guy with an amazing tattoo of Christ the Redeemer on his back) #dawnellesalantphotography #gloria #rio #rio2020 #gloriasundaymarket #freewalkertours

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Updated: May 9, 2020

After several days of rain, we are surprised when we walk out to hot sun at 9 am. We’ve booked a free walking tour of Little Africa, where Samba originated with Because Carnaval is only a week away, people have started partying already. Our guide hands out glitter before the tour starts so we fit in a little more….I have to admit that I spent so much time watching people on this tour that I may have missed some of the things our guide was telling us. It’s fascinating, don’t get me wrong, but when a man dressed as a devil walks by, or a beautiful woman wearing a bodysuit and glitter, or a group of men in pink tulle skirts - that’s where my eyes go and my mind follows. I can’t help it. Plus people were asking me to take their photos. Asking. I can look history up - but sometimes living in the moment is more important. 

My favourite part is Pedro do Sal. This is recognized as the birthplace of both Samba and Carnaval, and is a famous spot for watching Samba, especially on Monday nights. There is a party going on - people drinking, dancing and tons of stalls set up selling beer and caipirinhas. I want to stop and party, I feel safe here and people are friendly and motioning us to join in. Nearly everyone had on their Carnaval costumes and it’s like Halloween in 30 degrees. Some just have on headbands with unicorn horns, devil horns or even angel wings on their back. There’s a guy in superman dress with red knee highs and a cape who walked around like he owned the place. I want to be his friend. 

Our guide informs us that Brazil was the last country in the world to end slavery, something I knew nothing about. He also tells us that Brazil has the most black people (his words) in one country - even more than in Africa. 

When we round the corner, there is a band playing and people dancing the capoeira - which is an Afro-Brazilian martial art that includes dance and acrobatics put to music. It’s almost like a fight. The dancers are dressed in white and move in fluid patterns. It’s mesmerizing and the dancers have such control over their bodies and their movements. We walk up a steep set of stone stairs to a stone ramp that has iron hooks embedded into it. This is where the slaves would carry the salt from the port and lay it out to dry. We are told that if the slaves dropped the salt, they would be chained to the hooks and made to lay in the sun. I’m sweltering in the shade, I can’t imagine laying in the hot sun on those stones. It would mean death for some, I’m sure. 

We wander around for a few hours, and I take photos of a beautiful girl laying on the rocks. She looks to be mixed-race, and she has the fullest, brightest red lips. Glitter adorns her face and when she looks at the camera, I have a feeling that she’s no stranger to having her photo taken. She is stunning and it turns out to be one of my favourite photos I’ve ever taken. 

The tour ends at the huge mural that dominates the area surrounding Praça Mauá. It is the world’s largest graffiti mural and it is stunning. Imagine 190 meters of wall art reaching over 15 metres high. It covers an area that measures almost 3,000 square meters. Rio never ceases to inspire and amaze me.

One of the things I like most about travel is meeting new people. We have a drink with Juliana, a girl from Colombia that we met on our tour, at one of the pop ups bars that line the wharf across from the mural. We exchange travel stories and share parts of our lives that surprise each other. She complains how hard it is to understand Portuguese and this makes me immediately feel better. She’s a native Spanish speaker and still struggles with this similar language. And truth be told, I do much better than her in conversing with the waiter!

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  • Writer's pictureDawnelle Salant

Updated: May 8, 2020

One morning we decide to be brave and take the subway and a bus. We have no idea how to do either, but luckily as we are waiting in line for the subway, a young girl behind us starts speaking to us in English. She explains that we can charge a subway card and then both of us can use it for the subway and the bus. The card costs 3 reals (roughly $1) and she gives us one that she doesn't use. She then complains about how much a subway ride cost (4 reals - so just over a dollar) and I immediately feel guilty about the privileged life I lead. I thought the ride was super cheap, because I come from a rich country and am blessed with a good job. This girl probably has to go without other things so she can ride the subway and she's kind enough to give us her extra card.

Once we arrive at the correct subway stop, we follow the signs to the bus and things get a little more complicated. I use my limited Portuguese to find the correct bus, but it's packed. In Brazil, if you are over 60, you get preferential treatment - special priority lines at museums, attractions and airports. We learn that both the subway and bus have special seats as well, so my mom gets a seat but I have to stand squashed in between strangers. It doesn't bother me that much - I lived in London and took the tube all the time, but you always hear how dangerous Rio is. But nothing happens and as the crowd thins out I finally get a seat as well. Our destination is the Botanical Gardens and when we find them, I feel like I'm plunged into another world - one that doesn't exist inside the city limits of Rio.

There are lush green plants, trees and gorgeous blooming flowers everywhere. It is a tranquil escape from the city, right within the city. If you walk close to the edges of the park, you can hear the traffic, but in the centre of the gardens, there is nothing but peace and quiet. As we walk through the rose garden, I just happen to glance up and I am rewarded with a view of my favourite thing in Rio - Christ the Redeemer. This statue has some sort of hold on me - and I am always surprised when I see it. I am usually pretty good at directions and knowing where things are, but the statue always pops up where I wouldn't expect it to be. The forest that we are in forms the base of the giant promontory of rock that he sits on; the green gives way unexpectedly to a sharp slope of rock that reaches straight up.

We spend hours wandering through the gardens, taking in the orchids, the lily pond the cactus garden and the famous water fountain that has a view of Christ in the background. Rio really is a marvellous city. We stroll down an avenue of Royal Palms that reach nearly 100 feet high. There is no shortage of beauty here. I hear a squawk and see a flash of colour up in a treetop. Hardly daring to breath, I pull out my camera and get closer. I've heard that it's possible to see toucans here, but I didn't think it would be this easy. And yet, there in the treetops are several colourful toucans, chattering away. I snap a few photos, but it's dark in the shade of the trees, so I have to be content with just watching them. And once I've spotted those ones, we see them everywhere. It's hard to believe wildlife thrives so close to the busy city streets. Just one more thing to love about Rio.

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Hi there! I'm Dawnelle - travel photographer, adventure seeker and digital nomad currently exploring  South America. 

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