Nerd in Paradise: Making Friends on Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana Beach

A few years ago I traveled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for a conference. It was a glorious thing; my first (and only, so far) time in Rio, and the cariocas (i.e., locals) could not have been friendlier. In fact, I made a “special friend” on the beach as I trotted out for an early morning run. Continue reading for my “Nerd in Paradise” adventure on Rio’s Copacabana Beach.

The conference was located in the Rio Othon Palace Hotel right on Copacabana Beach – with incredible views out my hotel window. Behold (below), to the east, a spectacular view of Pão de Açúcar (i.e., Sugar Loaf Mountain) that would light up every morning with the sunrise.

To the west (below), the wide swath of Copacabana Beach swept off to the Forte de Copacabana (Fort Copacabana) located in the distance.

Before the morning sessions of the meeting began, I woke up early and headed out to run alongside one of Rio’s world-famous beaches.

It was very easy to get from Copacabana to Ipanema Beach. Each beach had a distinctive mosaic sidewalk pattern – a wave mosaic beside Copacabana Beach, and an art deco circle pattern along Ipanema Beach.

The sidewalks were beautiful to look at, but the hard, uneven cobblestones did not provide much cushioning for the legs.

It was 6:00am this particular morning, and I stood in the sand on Copacabana Beach not fully awake for the morning run. Strapped to my arm was one of those huge, fancy, Garmin GPS running watches that nearly covered half my forearm. In order for the watch to track speed and distance, it needed to find the nearest GPS satellite – a challenge since this was the first run in the Southern Hemisphere. My arm was extended high in the air like the Statue of Liberty. Presumably, getting the watch those 2-3 extra inches closer to the satellite would make the difference in finding a GPS signal.

A woman walked up and asked me for the time. Of course, I didn’t actually know the precise time because my Garmin had not yet located a signal. On my wrist was a big, honkin’ $200 watch, and I guessed at the time; “6:20am,” I said. She replied in Portugese, but I couldn’t understand.

She said, “English?”

I answered, “yes, American from New York.” She said something else, but I didn’t comprehend. She smiled; I smiled, and muttered something (possibly at my watch). At this point she inquired, “do you want some company?”

Okaaaay, she didn’t look ready to run dressed in a black skirt, crop top, and 4 inch heels. The skirt and top may have been made from a wicking, breathable fabric, but those heels were definitely not made for motion control. I declined the offer for a “running partner,” said “no, thank you,” she apologized and wandered off. Her chance at one last quick buck before calling it a night dashed, and I jogged down the beach hoping to pick up a GPS signal elsewhere.

As I mentioned before, this was my first and only time in Rio de Janeiro, but I would love to go back and meet more of the friendly cariocas who inhabit the city. In all seriousness, it would be wonderful to bring my family back to visit and experience more of the sights of the Cidade Maravilhosa, the Magnificent City.

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About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I’m a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.