It’s fairly easy to spend all day at Copacabana Beach. You can inexpensively rent chairs and umbrellas, and there are plenty of vendors to keep you fed, quenched, and entertained. You can purchase beach toys, sunglasses, caipirinhas, beer, cashews, water, sarongs, swimsuits, and sodas. I was eager to try the charred cheese on a stick and was amazed by the operation. The cheese vendors walk around carrying little ovens filled with hot coals. This often takes place on an already hot beach. When they have a customer, they take a skewer with a long rectangle of deliciously mild cheese on it, stoke the coals, and char the cheese to perfection.
I was almost tempted to try the shrimp skewers, until I remembered that they sell and consume the shrimp with the shells on in Brazil. I wasn’t ready for that. (I’d brave it later. And survive.) The caipirinhas came in a variety of flavors. I was partial to the classic lime but also a fan of the passion fruit. One vendor walked around with a yoke over his shoulders and steel kegs at his waist on either side.
“Excuse me,” I said in Portuguese. “What is that?”
He answered, but I couldn’t decipher what he was saying, so he took a cup and gave me a sample. On one side was tea and on the other a sweetened, lemonade-like drink. Because I’d stopped him and received a free sample, I felt compelled to buy a cup, but when I returned to the group, they saw the look of disappointment on my face.
“What is it?” my father-in-law asked.
“It’s sort of like a sweet tea.” I passed the cup around so that everyone could have a sample.
“You were hoping it was something with alcohol, weren’t you?” my husband asked.
“Well, yes. Yes, I was,” I conceded.
“Let’s check out these sarongs,” Nana said, flagging down a passing vendor.
The sarongs were beautiful and, like everything in Brazil, inexpensive when compared with American goods. My mother-in-law and I perused them while Mike played with the girls in the surf.
“What do you think of this one?” I asked. It was an elegant pattern in black and green, dominated by an elephant.
“It really accentuates your ass nicely,” my mother-in-law said, which I mentally added to the long list of things I never thought I’d hear from my mother-in-law.
“You have an elephant ass,” my father-in-law said.
“Excuse me?” I gaped at him.
“I mean, that’s a good thing,” he stuttered. “I mean, it looks good on you.”
“Honey,” my mother-in-law interjected. “You are digging yourself a hole.”
“I’ll forgive the elephant ass comment,” I said. “You can buy the next round of caipirinhas.” My father-in-law nodded in agreement.
The tradition on New Year’s in Brazil is to wear white, so after the sarongs, we stopped a passing vendor selling beach dresses. He had white ones, and I asked to try them on. The first dress I put on brought with it the possibility of getting awkwardly trapped in an article of clothing in front of a large crowd of people. When I realized the dress was too small, it was too late, as I had one arm and half of my head sticking up out of the dress, and the fabric stretched tight across my chest, mashing my breasts as if they were bound with duct tape. In addition to the embarrassment of being temporarily trapped in an article of clothing, I also had the fear that I might rip the dress in my efforts to either get it all the way on or remove myself from it.
“Oh dear,” my mother-in-law said. “Do you need help?”
“Nope,” I said in my most casual, I-do-this-every-day-and-there’s-nothing-at-all-the-matter voice. “But I think this one might be a little snug.” Everyone knew this was a gross understatement, but they spared me the humiliation of pointing it out. I removed the dress and handed it to my mother-in-law, who wore it well.
A thrilling trek through the Amazonian rainforest and a vibrant read about the adventures of being a vagabonding family.
-Lisa Ferland, Knocked Up Abroad