When we were dating, Sandeep and I had a bunch of friends that used to hang out at the bar at Ipanema Restaurant in New York. The bartender was a friend who kept us fed with garlicky chicken wings and empadinhas and watered with endless rounds of caiparinhas. Then the casual bar got a stuffy makeover and an even stuffier bartender and our nights in Ipanema ended. Under the influence of cachaca we conjured up fantasies of the real Ipanema. We imagined blaring music, great food, copious alcohol and a unrelenting energy.
Today we finally made it to Ipanema and its famous 2 km long beach. The long beach is marked by postos, each having a unique character. Posto 8 signals its flavor with a large rainbow flag, Posto 9 is known for its alternative vibe and gorgeous people, and 10 for its beach sports scene, which includes everything from beach volleyball to tight rope tricks.
This clip from Anthony Bourdain gives a good sense of Carioca culture at Posto 9.
I thought I would be intimidated in a beach full of Brazilian babes in fio dental (dental floss). Ipanema has long been known as the trend starter for swimwear, including the male g-string and the beach graces many a list of World’s Sexiest Beaches. It turns out that the crowd in Ipanema is quite assorted. Old and young, fit and flabby, everyone engages in their own forms of sun worship. Little kids were drawing with chalk on the sidewalk, couples were running with their dogs, parents had kids at the back of cycles, and plenty of beach goers like us were just ambling about to take in the scene.
In case the people watching isn’t enough, the vendors that roam the beach in portable stores provide food, drink and everything from suntan lotion to bikinis. As I was watching this action (and our bags, since we were warned of rampant pick-pocketing on Rio’s beaches) Sandeep and the kids played in the water. Within an hour they came back several shades darker, although Ava and Kayan were disappointed that there weren’t enough shells on the beach.
We were trying to figure out what would make a gal buy a bikini on a beach. Would it be a wardrobe malfunction? And it’s not as if she can try it on for fit. Interestingly enough we saw plenty of bikini tops under this guy’s umbrella, but no bottoms. Maybe that’s when you head to the pharmacy for more floss.
We love our beach vacations. When Kayan was only eight weeks old, we packed him up and took the family to the Dominican Republic for a long weekend. Every time we see open water, we dream about living a beach life. We long to wake up to blue waters, eat fresh seafood and live in flip flops. The reality is that, before this journey, we were never able to do this for more than a week at a time. Our month in Vouliagmeni, Greece has been our chance to live our beach life fantasy. When we leave on Friday there will be many things to miss.
We’ll miss the changing colors of the ocean, where we spent hours picking up shells and tormenting starfish.
We’ll miss the brilliant sunsets off our terrace.
We’ll even miss the perfectly manicured streets lined with orange, fig and olive trees.
Our month in Vouliagmeni has been the slowest part of our journey. We have had minimal external stimulus here, which took some adjusting after the excitement of Istanbul. Vouliagmeni programmed us to a leisurely pace of life that we will not experience for a very long time.
Our social life has been somewhat anticlimactic after Istanbul, where it seemed we met up with people from all phases of our lives. For over two weeks in Greece, Sandeep and I have only had each other for intellectual English conversation. We could have made more friends if we tried harder. However, between Vouliagmeni’s weekend-only population and our inclination to hang out on the beach most days, we just haven’t made the connections we did in other places.
Luckily my cousin, Keri, who was one of our Istanbul guests, came to Greece for Ava’s birthday. She missed the actual birthday by a day so we had no choice but to celebrate again.
This time we upped the stakes on our beach location. Not just any one of the gorgeous Greek beaches around Vouliagmeni would do. We wanted to scout out a private beach. The west coast of Attica has a road that hugs the coast like a smooth black ribbon laid against the turquoise waters. Most Athenians stay to this side of the peninsula given the easy access. That was all the excuse we needed to rent a car and check out the east coast.
It turns out there is a reason people don’t flock to the east coast beaches. They are hard to find and harder to reach. We had to turn off the highway and brave small gravel roads in hopes of finding a sandy stretch. Sandeep’s resilient driving, my gut driven navigation skills and Keri’s ability to entertain the kids in the back seat proved to be a winning combination. Our private beach came complete with a backdrop of a white and blue church perched over the water.
The combination of company and privacy made this one of our favorite days in Greece. This starfish that Kayan found probably could have done without the company though.
We’ve set high bars for birthdays on this trip. In January, I celebrated at my boarding school in Kodaikanal. In February, Kayan turned two on a beach in Goa. In April, we feasted on Sandeep’s baklava cake in Istanbul. Finally, today was Ava’s turn.
As we put Ava to bed tonight she said, “This was such a special day, you cannot even believe.” So what did we do to ring in Ava’s fourth year? We started off playing at a local playground, where she told Kayan exactly how to use the sea-saw.
The kids made sand birthday cakes on the beach.
We stuffed ourselves on calamari, grilled octopus, and barbounia.
The best past of today is that we sang happy birthday several times. The world is so connected now and, with media such as Skype, Ava got to celebrate with friends and family from around the world.
Those that know our family knows we aren’t into gifts. Turns out that’s just fine for a four year old. Ava’s gifts today were shells, ocean air, sunshine, good food and lots of love. That’s a great way to celebrate any year of life.
A major reason we embarked on this journey was to instill in Ava and Kayan the same respect for other cultures and curiosity about our world that Sandeep and I value. We have been so focused on exposing our kids to the world that we haven’t really thought that about how they are processing all of this.
Today’s conversation with Ava made us consider how she and Kayan are digesting this experience. I was walking on the beach in flip-flops and the inevitable happened – they eventually tore at the toe. On our awkward wobble back home, Ava asked, “Mama, I like those shoes. Can you keep the good one and buy just one that works?” I responded that shoes are sold in twos because most people have two feet. She considered this and said, “But why not a million feet?” I asked her if she had ever seen a person with a million feet. Her reply was, “Not yet, but maybe I’ll see one in Namibia.”
Sandeep and I have ongoing discussions on our Africa plans. We continue to oscillate between paranoia and rationalization and the kids have inevitably heard more than we know. I don’t know what images they have conjured in their heads about the wilds, but I’d love to know what it is that we said that made it possible for Ava to conceive of a million legged person.
This seems like a good occasion to share Ava’s most recent self portraits. It’s not a million legs, but there is imagination in there for sure.
Filed under Africa, Greece
Sometimes we just relax.
As you can see, Taniya and my sunglasses did make their way to Greece.
On our day of relaxation we thanked Pasithea, the Greek goddess of rest. Pasithea was very aptly married to Hypnos, the god of sleep. I wonder how they got anything done. Pasithea must have a spell over us today, as our inclination to relax on the turquoise waters outside our door was so strong we didn’t manage to do anything else.