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Feb
21

Operation Smile-Brazil

God, somebody help me. Ever since returning from Las Cabos, I’ve been scouring the paper, browsing tabloids at checkout stands, in search of what else? Celebs, man! I’m looking for celebs in exotic places, places I can just dive into. Hawaii is always a hot spot, sure Pink’s there bronzing her big belly, Hugh Jackman is shaking off the snow, and Jennifer Aniston is well, she’s there a whole lot. But I’m bored.

I want more.

I want some place that’s warm, a place I’ve never been before, a place I can discover, a place that’s not too expensive, but not cheap either. And then I hear a voice. Behind me. In Line. At Ralph’s.

“That Matthew McConaughy, he should never wear a shirt, a shirt on his, is like a sheet over the Mona Lisa.”

Matt in Buzios

Matt in Buzios

I turn. I spy the mag she’s reading. I scoop it up. There he is ploughing through the surf. His wife, their friends, children, other friends, are sitting on the beach. Smack in the middle of winter, sun drenched beaches. I read the caption. “Our summer is your winter in Buzios, Brazil. Jump on a cheap flight to Rio Today!”

Rio

Now let me be perfectly clear. I’m not crazy. I’m not a stalker. I’m not even that desperate. I just know that if they go there it’s gotta be good, wouldn’t you agree? That’s my new theory and Mexico proved I was right.

And Brazil was no different, I went of course. I convinced the old man that a little non-profit medical work is good for the soul.  Did I mention he’s a plastic surgeon? As luck would have it, Operation Smile had just started in Rio and was looking for volunteers. Their mission: Bring the smiles back to 492 children in a week.

First things first: I found cheap flights to Rio online at www.bt-store.com. This is always first on my list, because without cheap flights, there’s almost no chance of convincing my hubby.

Next: The fun part. Research. I compile most recent mags, go online and find exactly where to go in Brazil after my husband puts in a full week’s worth at Operation Smile in Rio.

From all that I read, and I’m not interested in backpackers here, I’m interested in the cool hot spots. From what I read, the North is very cool, BUT the south is where most everyone goes in the summer for warm sun and pale blue water. Also, did you know that the top three Victoria Secret/Sports Illustrated models come from the south of Brazil? It’s almost scary, but yes, it’s true. Gisele, Alessandra Ambrosio and Adriana Lima, all hail from a small town called Horizontina, originally settled by Italians, Germans and Poles. Under no circumstances should any of you readers go there while on honeymoon. Avoid Horizontina at all costs, stop short of it. But do go to Buzios. Easy. Why? Because that’s where everyone goes.

Buzios

A short flight from Rio, this is the place Brigitte Bardot put on the map back in the fifties. It has such a St. Tropez feel to it, but the St. Tropez of Bardot, not of today’s mega yachts and nasty billionaires guzzling straight from the bottle. Here, stores don’t open until after 2. Here people walk up and down the street with flip-flops in hand, bathing suits on. This is pure vacation land, and it is far enough away to really feel like you’ve finally gotten lost.

I flew in directly from LA into Rio de Janiero, and then grabbed a super quick commuter flight to Buzios. Here the distances are so grand, locals usually fly, seriously, why deal with the stresses of big city traffic when you’re on holiday?  My husband and I met in the lobby of our hotel La Boheme, on a green hillside overlooking the blue waters of João Fernandes. Beach. It was that easy.

What wasn’t easy, however, was choosing a hotel here in this little tropical dreamland.  There is so much to chose from. Really, it’s all so small here, and so quaint but because of the international tourism here, the Brazilians are truly top notch with their accommodations. And yet, this hotel spoke to me. Why? Maybe because it reminded me so of St. Tropez back in the day before it was corrupted. With its uncomplicated and unpretentious furnishings in yellows and oranges, it felt so relaxed and clean. The view is breathtaking. The way it sits on a long stretch of green, a whopping 11, 640 oceanfront square meters, overlooking warm, clam, crystal blue waters.

 La Boheme

La Boheme

The rooms are great for people traveling with children because there are small kitchens in them, it’s also great for people like us though because really, who wants to eat in a restaurant three times a day? Not me. I want to explore the markets, get to know local foods and devour them in peace. I want to feel like a local. There’s also air-conditioning and fans which come in very handy when it gets too hot.

Walking. Walking here is so easy and so wonderful. It’s like an old village. Evenings are breezy and calm, here the night really begins at midnight. Another good reason to have a hotel with a kitchen. When you’re as old as we are, we’re usually asleep well before they even open their doors. It’s so easy to get from the hotel down to Rua das Pedras, the main shopping street in Buzios.  Here there’s the old colonial style fishermen village and Santa Ana church in Praia dos Ossos. One of the nicest things to do is to follow the stone road along the sea called the Orda Bardot. Boats fill the port in the summer, as do the many brightly colored fishing boats.

The first morning, we stayed in as late as the sun would allow. I was dying to explore despite my husband’s overall grumpiness. He was depressed, of course after only having operated on two hundred children, there are so many children up in the Amazon that waited days and were not fixed. I told him we’d come back as long as he got up and stopped being such a stick in the grass. And no I am not insensitive. Breakfast here is after all included. And I didn’t want to miss out on my first morning’s fresh Brazilian fruit, yogurt, cheese all locally made, pastries, fresh squeezed juices and my favorite dark coffee with thick whole milk, frothed.

The good thing here is that most people are late to rise, which means you have the pick of the beach chairs, surf and snorkel equipment, you name it. What a tropical place it is here, so much more so than Mexico. The water just shimmers. And it feels so clean. Fish swim everywhere underneath, but so far, sadly, celebrities are scarce.

Another good thing here is that you don’t need to move to eat.  Women walk the beach pushing carts with a steaming pot of corn on the cob, a small grill to make kebabs of fresh hot cheese on a skewer, they are not aggressive either, so if you don’t want anything, you just say so and off they go.

Another day, I took a leisurely half-hour walk to Azeda and Azedinha, two smaller, less crowded beaches on the north side of the peninsula with no nearby restaurants; there you can actually lay a towel down. Still, rowboats moored near the beach served drinks and the occasional vendor passed, so no one was likely to go thirsty or hungry.

Geriba

Here you can spend your days beach hopping. For less populated natural beauty, its only a half-hour walk to Azeda and Azedinham on the north side of the peninsula. One day we bought two cheese crepes and a bottle of wine and rented a dune buggy for $25. We headed out to Geribá, the surfing beach here in Buzios. Here people surf, this is scaled down to bare essentials but it’s great to be here. It’s rustic and beautiful, waves are large and surfers are everywhere. This is Matthew MsConaughy’s beach of choice. But if you have to pee, do it in the water and don’t tell anyone. There are practically no facilities here.

After sampling most of the local beaches, we decided to take a cruise. For about $8, you can take a cruise that hits most of the hard to reach northern beaches, with stops for swimming and lunch. For four hours we drank an unlimited supply of caipirinhas. My husband totally forgot about Operation Smile and I, Matthew McConaughy.  For lunch, we stopped at Tartaruga Beach, which was exactly what every vacation post card should look like. Tables in the sand, under colorful umbrellas, good-looking tanned people enjoying fish that’s so fresh there is not smell.

In fact the food in Buzios is healthy. One of the best restaurants to sample the seafood here is Satyricon, an airy, upscale restaurant open on one side to the sea.  But there are so many well-priced places to go to for great healthy salads, fresh baked breads, pastas and rice. And the prices are so moderate, here you can eat a great meal with drinks for less than $30.

Nightlife in Búzios stretches into the wee hours, but we were usually in our room by eleven, reading with out windows open to the surf. In the background Brazilian music accompanies the sound of the surf hitting the seawall and the breeze slapping the palms. And honestly that’s all the nightlife we needed.

On our last day, the day we were flying back to Rio and onto Los Angeles, something caught my eye over breakfast. A couple so blindingly beautiful, so perfectly happy, I could barely take my eyes off of them. Gisele and Tom. Here on vacation. I could see her bikini sticking out of her sheer cover-up. Her hair knotted effortlessly around a dull pencil. God, I hated her.

Thank God we were leaving. The idea of sitting next to her on the beach all day as she jogged up and down was more than I could bear. “It’s time to go.” I announced.

Yikes

Yikes

“I think we should stay.” He said.

I looked over at them. “Go.”

“Stay.” He looked straight her.

“Plane’s leaving in an hour.” I smiled. “Too bad, I know, but-”

“I’ve booked us in for another week, we’ll be spending a few days in a lovely little town called Horizontina.” He looked over at the happy couple. “They’re having a big Swimsuit Illustrated reunion, I know how you love celebrities.”

“She’s not a celebrity.” I shove a whole croissant in my mouth. I decide to gain as much weight as I possibly can. It’s my only defense.

Tune in next week. I’ll either be locked away in the Horizontina jail for having assaulted a supermodel or on the news for having gained more weight in a week than humanly possible.

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