Brazilians have created something really fabulous with their beach culture. Everything you need is available for purchase on demand. All you have to do is show up with a nominal amount of cash and a bathing suit – although even that is now optional on Rio’s new nudist beach – and the rest will be provided.
The first person to wave you down will be a person renting chairs. These old, beat-up-looking reclining lawn chairs are ubiquitous and dirt cheap – a mere five reais (approx. CAD $2.25) for as many hours as you want.
“Quantas cadeiras?” they’ll holler, and you’ll signal to them how many chairs you want. The chairs get set up in the location of your choice, with the option to rent a sun umbrella for the same price as another chair. I do recommend the sun umbrella if you’re a pale-skinned gringa like me, although I’ve learned it’s impossible to confine two energetic little boys to the limited shade.
For the rest of your time at the beach, the chair-renter will also act as a bartender, bringing drinks such as água de côco (coconut water straight from the green coconut shell), Coca-Cola, guaraná, cold beer, icy caipirinhas, water, or whatever your heart desires. Some offer full-on meals – platters of grilled fish with fried mandioc and salad. He keeps a tab and you pay up at the very end.
Then there are the beach vendors who walk by at a slow and steady pace, selling everything imaginable that you might need (or not need) at the beach. They hawk their wares, mostly politely with minimal pushiness. Need a hat, sarong wrap, sunscreen, tanning lotion, a new bikini or Speedo (I’ve never quite understood that, whether you’d change right on the spot or what), some plastic sand toys, or a blow-up toy whale? You name it; you can probably buy it.
My favourite is the food vendors, who sell a wide range of interesting treats. Queijo na brasa is grilled soft cheese on a stick, rolled in oregano and sometimes honey. The vendor roasts it over hot coals in a little brazier that he carries in one hand. There’s ice cream and popsicles, Bahian acarajé that looks like a half-moon bun filled to bursting with shrimp and vegetables in a delectably oily sauce, sliced pineapple on a stick, caldinho stew in a cup, grilled shrimp, fresh-pressed lime and orange juices.
Going to the beach back home is a lot more work, by comparison. Depending on how many hours I plan to stay, I often haul a huge bucket of digging toys, a giant bag of towels, a blanket, a change of clothes for the kids, a cooler with snacks and drinks, sunscreen, hats, and a book for myself.
It’s a necessary hassle because this clever, inventive, portable beach infrastructure that Brazil offers doesn’t exist in Canada. It’s unfortunate that health and safety regulations would quash any vendor’s aspirations, despite my suspicions that a walking pizza-seller and ice-cold-drinks-seller and ice-cream-seller could make a killing on hot summer days at the beach back home.
In the meantime, I’m more than happy to take advantage of the Brazilian beach system as much as I can over the next two months!