After a week of tourist attractions in Rio de Janeiro, I felt the need to escape the beaten path, to experience a less intense version of Carioca culture. I discovered this relaxation by making the short venture across Guanabara bay to Rio’s sister city of Niteroi, where I experienced two world class beaches, each with their own unique personality.
I started out my visit mid-morning to Camboinhas with a stroll down a tile walkway (designed in the tradition of Copacabana) that serves as a backdrop to the beautiful two-kilometer expanse of lush sand and crashing surf. Feeling in the mood to exercise and inspired by the Carioca passion for fitness, my stroll turns into a jog (Brazilians might be blessed with natural beauty but its their vigorous daily workout routines consisting of running, cross-training in the sand, and the creative array of push/pull/balance exercises on chin-up and parallel bars that earn them the ranking of the ‘world’s sexiest people’).
Once finished, I replace my tennis shoes with Havaianas and make my way to the sand. I purchase a water and some frozen acai from one of the many cooler-carrying vendors that make their way up and down the beach. Wasting no time, I jump into the cold refreshing Atlantic water. When looking to the west, Camboinhas offers an all encompassing vista of Rio de Janeiro in the distance; the familiar sharp mountains rising above its short skyline. Small but visible is ‘Christ the Redeemer’ seemingly observing it all from above amidst the sparse cloud cover.
Noticeably absent from Camboinhas are surfers. I ask around as to why. Turns out, an Argentine ship wrecked there during a storm in 1958. Steel remnants of the ship are strewn up and down the beach and lurk beneath the surface of the water making it unsafe beyond playing in the waves on the beach. As families, couples, and groups of friends show up to do just that, I decide to make the five-minute drive to Itacoatiara, a beach dedicated to world class surfing.
Though it lacks the view of Rio that Camboinhas offers, Itacoatiara hypnotizes the beach goer with the intense beauty of its mountain-enclosed setting.
Near a rock formation on the southern end, surfers dot the water like seals waiting for their wave on a set that splits both left and right (the waves here attract surfers from around the world, and during the winter, Itacoatiara plays host to the International Body Surfing Championship). Jutting out from the northern end of the beach and framing it as if by design is a hiking mountain that offers a spectacular view of the action below.
The beach itself is quite deep and flat ending in a sharp climb up to the street above. While some simply sunbathe in the sand, many play ‘altinha’, a simple game performed by at least two people with a soccer ball, the aim being to prevent the ball from touching the ground. Where the mountain meets the beach, I see some Carioca rehearsing the movements of ‘capoeira’, a martial art performed to the rhythm of drums and chants.
Unlike Camboinhas, there are no vendors walking along the beach selling anything you might need or want, so to the street above for a late lunch. I find a table at Quiosque do Gustavo, run by a husband and wife who provide me with such an air of welcome that I feel like a long lost friend. It proves a wonderful choice for lunch and my seat provides me an unobstructed view of the beach below.
As I make my exit, Gustavo tells me to check out a hidden lagoon behind the rock formation before I leave. When I arrive, I am spiritually calmed by its breathtaking beauty, and just so happens, I find myself to be the sole person there breathing in its meditative peace. Considering the fact that I was looking for a less intense experience than the city of Rio offers, it was the perfect ending to my day trip including yoga, meditation, and most of all, gratitude.