A year in Brazil is a dream come true for Olivia Coote.
Why did you move to Rio de Janeiro?
About four years ago I visited some Brazilian friends I'd made in high school in New Zealand. They came to my school on an exchange and after they left it was always a "to-do" to visit them in Brazil.
The trip was the beginning of a seven-month OE and Brazil (and especially Rio) left something inside of me changed. I felt such a pull to this place, I decided I had a Brazilian soul, so the wheels were set in motion to somehow get back here. Four years later, with a nearing 27th birthday, I applied for a working holiday visa and three-months later boarded the plane for my new home, Rio de Janeiro.
What do you do there?
Mostly I struggle with the mighty mountain that is learning Portuguese, but day to day I enjoy the beach, the food, the heat (some days this is less enjoyable) and I work with two young entrepreneurs who developed a line of brilliant and sustainable souvenirs. They go by the name of Terravixta and make mini wooden models of the wonders of Rio de Janeiro. I'm trained as a graphic designer and our office is part of the newest co-working space in Rio, Goma.
What do you like or dislike about life in Rio?
I like its feel, the landscape (these incredible giant rocks that shoot out of the land and sea), the love of sun and sand, the pained faces of the Cariocas (the people of Rio) when it rains, the heat, the general happy vibe of its people and they throw a good party. Rio is vain, it knows it's good and that entertains me everyday. Sometimes I find myself complaining about the pace at which some things are done, the bizarre systems, the lack of good wholefood stores and good coffee, the people's distrust with one another and the disparity between rich and poor.
How does the cost of living compare with New Zealand's?
Rent in Zona Sul (which includes Copacabana, Ipanema etc) is very expensive and Brazilians don't usually do the flatting thing, which can make it even more expensive. I got lucky and live with a friend who lets me pay a reasonable rent (three minutes from Copacabana beach.)
Food always surprises me. Some things are much cheaper than home - so many incredible fruits - but then some are a ton more. Matches blew my mind at only 10 cents (NZ) a box and apparently I got ripped off.
What do you do on weekends?
I try to spend some of my weekend on the beach, generally the weather here is wonderful. There is always something on to do or to see.
What do you think of the food?
I adore a lot of the terribly bad for your health things, like coxinha (a deep-fried, teardrop-looking thing filled with spiced chicken, usually cheese and potato or manioc), pao de queijo (a magical cheese bread), tapioca (served in a crepe style with a filling) and acai (a fruit served as a kind of sorbet).
What's the best way to get around?
I think the best way for visitors, or anyone, to get around is on the bus. There are hundreds of buses, they drive like maniacs (100kmh is the goal between bus stops) but they seem to go every five minutes. Plus, it costs a flat fee of $2.75, no matter if you go two stops or 35.
What's the shopping like?
I haven't done a lot of shopping but there are some serious shopping malls and a large area of downtown for cheap goods (think a whole neighbourhood of dollar stores). Brazil makes great shoes, beautiful and colourful clothes and I constantly lust after their bikini offerings (I've even embraced the small bottoms). However, I really miss op shops. They don't seem to have them here, I've found a couple but they are definitely not in an abundance and I can't understand why they aren't.
What's the nightlife like?
There is always something to do in Rio at night. The city has plenty of bars, pub-like beer drinking venues, live music all across the city to be found, parties, forro or samba dance evenings, squares that pack full of people and nightclubs if you are that way inclined.
What is your favourite part of Rio?
Santa Teresa, a beautiful hill-top neighbourhood between the city's beaches and downtown that boasts incredible views. It is home to a lot of creative folk who live in magnificent crumbling mansions of a day gone by, with their studios and galleries often open to the public.
What time of year is best to visit?
Now, before the weather gets too hot, the city gets too crowded and the prices get too high. Or, of course, Carnival, when the city becomes even more of a throbbing, unstoppable energy full of colour, costumes, parties and sweat.
What's your must-do thing for visitors?
Pao de Acucar at dusk. Riding the terrifying cable car across to the mighty monolith rock to see the sun set behind the city and Rio light up.
How easy is it for you to get back to New Zealand?
Easy (just a plane ride away) but very expensive.
If you know an expat who wants to share the inside knowledge on their home away from home, email firstname.lastname@example.org with Expat in the subject line.
- Sunday Star Times