South America- Chile, Brazil, Iguazu Falls, Argentina
Part 2: Brazil
Rio de Janerio clings to the muscular mountain landscape while simultaneously hugging the Atlantic Ocean in a tug o' war battle where no one loses.
It's gorgeous, intriguing, yet slightly claustrophobic...in my opinion.
Sadly, our hotel was not as accommodating as Chile. The breakfast options or even the hospitality were lacking, but luckily every street corner had fresh juice bars and the restaurants and markets had ample amounts of vegan options.
Our first juice bar was overwhelming, but beautiful. There were so many options, my head was reeling. I didn't know what I wanted to try first, but I went with my South America obsession (thank you Chile) mango. I added a little ginger because I knew something under the surface was brewing.
Our first real order of business in Brazil was a trip to Christ the Redeemer. Our guide took us on a drive through the city and then to Tijuca Forest National Park where the 635 metric ton statue lies perched atop Corcovado Mountain.
Our hike to the top was short, but the heat was strong. The views were breathtaking and Christ the Redeemer, massive. I was also not aware that at the base of the statue a tiny church resides within.
We took a moment to take in everything, including the loud whistle blowing by security. To get the first shot above, one has to stand on top of little wall. Other tourists were doing the same (yes, yes we were followers) and it took a little encouragement by my group to do so, but it was well worth it. We just caught on to this nifty idea near the end and it happened to be when security was clued in. Down we went, but not until after we got all our shots. Rebels we are.
I don't have a fear of heights per se and I trust my years of yoga training (balance), but this minor thrilling moment in an unfamiliar environment and separating yourself from the crowd was gold.
On our way down, our guide pointed to a juice bar that served fresh soursop juice–a fruit that's been on my "must-try" list for a while. I knew I had to grab one and I'm so very glad I did. It was sweet, cold and refreshing. It reminded me of mix between a pear and a guava.
From there we made our way back to the hotel to change and get ready for dinner. One of the girls on the trip had made reservations for us at a trendy restaurant in Leblon called Brigite's.
Brigite's was a cozy, two-story, dimly lit, mainly seafood and pasta heavy restaurant. I wasn't sure what was in store for me, but as most dinners, I went with the flow.
It was a nice surprise to see a "V" on the menu for vegetarian. In general, I found Brazil to have more vegan/vegetarian options than one would expect, except the one hotel we happen to be staying at. Go figure.
On the way to the restaurant in Leblon, we walked past a cute gelato store with a big window sign proclaiming "vegan gelato". Times, in general, are changing in South America and the shift is happening. That gelato store was a great indicator that the requests are being made.
Over the years my confidence in asking the waiter, "Would it be possible to ask the chef if there is a vegan dish he or she could make?" has grown. I think it's easier than stating, "I'll take this dish, but without the cheese, milk and egg." That leaves the waiter and chef to ask more questions, "What kind of sauce? The pasta has eggs, what would you like to substitute?" and it holds up the dining experience with non-vegans. Sometimes it's unavoidable and more questions need to be asked, but reading the restaurant, the room and the waiter is key.
As well, a fair amount of chefs I've come across like to break from the mold and create something different, fun and off-menu. I've had some impressive dishes this way.
That night the chef went completely off-menu and created me not 1, but 2 dishes. I started with a delicious gazpacho and ended with a mushroom carpaccio. It was a light dinner, but refreshing. The focaccia with olive oil was phenomenal.
On Sundays, many locals and tourists converge to browse bustling outdoor markets. Handmade goods flourish while tourists try to figure out if they need to buy an extra suitcase to fit their winnings.
I tried to keep my approach simple and only went for items I knew my mind couldn't deal parting with, such as rings. I was on a ring mission. I'll jump to the end of this story to let you know it was a very successful mission and no one went broke over it. Small, exactly what I wanted and no extra suitcases were needed.
Normally on my travels I try to up my immune system boosting regime prior to leaving, during and post trips. Prior to this trip I happen to get my first ever ear infection. Apparently it was the type that would allow me to fly. Even so, my system was already compromised. I tried hard to keep boosting, but I was a little too late. Any outside invader had a good chance of invading my weakened immune system. Half way into my South America travels a fever started to develop. I had to miss a few dinners, hang in the room some days and rest up as much as I could in between adventures. I was sicker than I had been in years. No matter how much rest I tried to get, I was still constantly tired and constantly fighting a raging fever.
One night after going to happy hour with the girls (not drinking), I knew I couldn't muster enough energy to go to dinner afterwards. My mother decided she felt the same (she was fighting a little something herself) and decided to walk with me. We stumbled upon a wonderful market and perused. I wanted something simple and I was lucky enough to find exactly what I wanted. I bought cashews, rice cakes and tofu cream cheese!
it might sound lame to you, but for me rice cakes and cream cheese (or anything really) makes me happy. It goes back to childhood. When I was sick I always wanted soup with rice cakes and cream cheese or peanut butter and jelly or avocado. Rice cakes are my go-to's, I always have them in the house. Finding the tofu cream cheese was the icing on the cake. I would find later in Argentina not all markets in South America are created equal. I could not find anything in Argentina except expensive meh fruit and very meh rice cakes. Nothing like the brands above.
The next day while everyone went out I knew I needed to hang back and rest. I also wanted to check out an all-vegan restaurant nearby a kind Instagrammer (Veganinny) directed me too. I love eating clean and simple, but I needed a meal with some heft and lots of nutrients. I knew I wasn't getting enough to combat what I had.
I walked a short distance and landed at Bio Carioca. The inside was a cozy, bohemian, two story restaurant; exactly what I needed. I felt at home.
Throughout being sick I had not been very hungry, but I wanted to have a substantial nutrient-dense meal before our next outbound flight to Iguazu Falls.
I started with a fresh organic pineapple/ginger juice and then ordered their special; Paris Mushroom Stew with carrots and yucca farofa. Farofa is basically seasoning. I wasn't sure how it would work, but it was tasty. Would I have preferred actual pieces of steamed yucca instead? Yeah, but It's an interesting concept and I'm glad I tried it.
1st shot on the left is how the dish comes and the 2nd shot is how you mix it all together. Sure the meal could have had a little more flavor, but it was simple, clean, hearty and filling. I felt revived after.
I didn't want to leave without trying a dessert (of course) so I went with the tapioca coconut pudding with shredded coconut and brazil nuts.
I was full at this point so I only had a little to satisfy my curiosity. South America, in general, was reasonable in price, but I was shocked my whole meal came out to under $15. It was better than a few of the fancier meals I'd had on the trip and it satiated me a whole lot more.
I was now ready to board a flight to Iguazu Falls.