In Rio, the suburbs do not have the same connotation as they do in the States. Here suburbs are poorer, less developed areas, many of which are considered favelas, or slums.
But there is an area south of Rio de Janeiro that fits the profile of an American suburb. Barra de Tijuca feels like you are driving into Florida, an area of urban sprawl, condominiums, and single family homes littered with malls and elaborate shopping centers. It is there you will find Walmart and Cosco. It is cleaner and a bit safer than the city, but for what you get in safety you pay for in traffic.
When we moved to Rio we debated between living in Barra and living in the city. We had three days to find an apartment and trying to choose between the two was like comparing apples and oranges. In Barra we had cousins, the condos had swimming pools, fitness centers and play areas. There it was quiet and we would have more space. Looking in Zona Sul (Copacabana and Ipanema), we were looking at less space, more expensive apartments with none of the perks, in more crowded, dirty areas.
We went back and forth but in the end we went with our gut. We knew it would always be easier to move to Barra than to move from there to the city. Not having a job and looking at the prospect of having lots of visitors, I wanted the convenience of being in the city where L and I could explore.
We got lucky. Really lucky. We ended up finding a large apartment in the city near public transportation, a few blocks from the beach, and not far from the Lagoa. Given that it is on the second floor and the traffic is loud (really loud), we got a reasonable price for it.
It has been perfect for visitors. However, after a couple weeks here my parents were curious as to what we might be missing out on not living in Barra. In Nebraska, people don’t really walk to the grocery store and after multiple trips per week to our corner stores, my mom wanted to see what the bigger stores were like.
So one afternoon we headed out to Barra to take a tour of the area and hit one of the biggest grocery stores, Guanabara. I had only been there once after we had a long day at beach, but I remembered L loved it because they had a play area for kids where we could leave her while we shopped. L was thrilled that we were finally going back.
I usually get overwhelmed with these kinds of places and when we got there I was immediately struck by how full it seemed. As we made our way up the ramps I noticed that carts seemed especially packed full of ridiculous amounts of one product. We checked L into the play area and realized we didn’t have a cart. My dad went to find one and I decided to start getting things on the list. That was when I entered the madness. I didn’t realize at the time but it was Guanabara’s anniversary sale. Of the 75 checkout lines, 70 were open and nearly all of them were 25 people deep. People were camped in lawn chairs watching over their three packed and chained together carts. It was at that point that I started feeling like I was going to hyperventilate. My dad still wasn’t back from cart stalking downstairs. I told my mom it wasn’t worth it. People were elbowing their way into new inventory as it came out onto the floor.
L hadn’t yet finished her half hour play time so we intersected my dad as he came back from following people into the parking lot to score a grocery cart and suggested we get a coffee instead. A man from Western Nebraska with a deep appreciation for the open range, he didn’t disagree.