I hadn't really imagined a vacation spent lying around on the beach, but Rio's beaches do make the idea seem dangerously appealing. They are quintessentially smooth and sandy, untroubled by rocks and seaweed and equipped with all the amenities you could ask for, even down to people who will bring you a freshly-made caipirinha as you lounge on your beach chair gazing lazily out at the spectacular islands offshore.
The waves off Copacabana were surprisingly powerful, just on the edge between exhilarating and alarming. They came in in sets, a few gentle ones to put you off your guard, and then a couple of giants to knock you off your feet. Turn your back on the ocean for a moment and the next time you looked round there would be a huge wave behind you, stealthily piling itself up over your head, getting ready to drop a ton of white water on you. The meanest ones came in pairs, one right behind the other, the second one ready to finish what the first had started.
The waves are extremely larcenous. During her first afternoon in the water, the ocean took M.'s sunglasses and her bikini bottoms (twice). She was able to recapture the latter, but the sunglasses are gone forever.
“It says that topless bathing isn't allowed,” M. observed,
“but it says nothing about bottomless. Do you think I'd have been fined?”
“It would hardly be your fault.” I said.
“It surely counts as an act of God. Oh no! I've been pantsed by God! They couldn't fine you for that.”
“I know there's supposed to be an international signal for choking or drowning,” said A-L., struggling to keep her own swimsuit in place against the questing fingers of the tide.
“What's the international signal for ‘please come quickly to the water's edge with a towel’?”
Of course the difference between nudity and some of the bathing suits favored by the Cariocas is only one of degree anyway. The skimpy thongs for which Rio is famous are clearly designed to offer no purchase to the waves and, incidentally, nothing whatsoever to the imagination. Yesterday when we were at the beach it was a chilly mid-winter afternoon — the mercury barely pushing twenty-five Celsius — so the beach was relatively empty and I only saw one girl wearing the classic fio dental (‘dental floss’) swimsuit. But she had a very shapely backside, and I could hardly blame her for wanting to set it off to best advantage, whatever the weather.