Shopping in Rio and other things


Even though our foodstuffs lasted really well over the two ocean crossings, it seriously was time to buy more. The girls craved pork sausages (this was after they worked each other up to the point of drooling) and we couldn’t remember what a fresh egg looked like.

For quite a while our experience showed that there were NO proper grocery stores – ANYWHERE. Our first stop was the Rio Sul shopping Centre. Very big and very well known.

Rio Sul is marvellously air-conditioned. It has four floors of shopping. It has an English speaking girl at the help desk. It has cellular-phone shops and auto-tellers. There are many fast food places and even a Starbucks. What it doesn’t have is anything that can even remotely pass for a grocery store. No food!

The lovely English-speaking girl directed us to the nearest supermacado. We were to follow the street and then we would find it.

Well, we followed that street. We walked through a tunnel – where there are walkways on either side of a very busy road for pedestrians to use, but no way to escape the fumes and the noise. We followed the road on and on, right into a new suburb called Copacabana. We saw many shops, but only after about 45 minutes did we see a tiny, seedy supermacado. They did have a variety of fruit and a few other things, but since we were VERY far from home and had to carry EVERYTHING we bought and we were SURE that there would be something better on the way home, we only bought some apples.

We wound our way back to Rio Sul where Frans still had to sort out the Internet options (another story for another day). On our way there, some Brazilians saw the tablet Frans carried and came to warn us not to walk around with electronics in the open. They are really friendly in Rio. We asked for a supermacado and they pointed ahead. Ah! Good! We followed the directions eagerly. No supermacado. Some girls that could speak English also tried to help us, but didn’t know of a supermacado nearby. They advised us to try another shopping Mall. We did. Rio Sul all over again. At last, very tired and VERY hot, we returned back to the Club, trying our level best to run into some kind of supermacado (seedy or otherwise). We managed to not find any. There were no sausages for dinner that night.

The next day we devoted to “signing into” Brazil. No one at the Club really knew what the procedure should look like. It is as if they’ve never helped a yacht to go through customs and migration. (Afterwards we did learn that very few people actually do sign in. They just remain in the country illegally and nobody bothers about them).All of the “signing in” happened in Central which was too far to walk. A friendly lady helped us to call a taxi and gave the taxi driver the address in very fast Portuguese. We tumbled into the taxi and were relieved to reach the right destination.

It took ALL day to sign in. The people were very friendly and accommodating. They were just not really sure what to do with us. Even here, at the Police-, Customs- and Migration offices, there was no clear cut procedure for yachts entering the port of Rio de Janeiro. We waited around a lot, while people went to find things out. What forms we should fill out, which buildings we should go to and who we should see when we got there. Frans used Google Translate all the time. We don’t know how we would have got anywhere without it. He also used it to ask the name of a supermacado we could go to. Does Rio even HAVE supermacados? At this point we were willing to believe that Rio people bought their food from Amazon. The answer was : Yes! They DO use grocery stores! We could go to the Supermacado Extra and here was the address.

As we had to wait until 2 o’ clock for a certain official, we made the descision to take a taxi to the supermacado. Then afterwards Franci and Frans would meet with the official and the rest of us would taxi home with the foodstuffs. We were more prepared for grocery shopping this time. We had a big, strong bag to put everything into.

We tried to remember all we knew about hailing taxis in Rio. Actually, it’s really easy. They’ll stop anywhere. They’ll cause congestion in the traffic to pick you up. They’ll cut in front of cars or busses to reach you. Okaaaaay. I held out my hand, the taxi stopped, we gave the destination (we also had it written down) and he agreed to take us. We started piling in and as soon as the fifth person got in he started gesticulating and saying “Noun,Noun,Noun”.” Quatro, no Seish,” waving madly for us to get out. We repeated this two more times, all the time thinking that we were just not hailing the right kind of taxi. After all, that lady called a taxi that brought all 6 of us here? Eventually we realised that the taxis would NOT take more than 4 persons and we decided to take 2 taxis.

The Supermacado Extra was exactly as promised. It was big and it was a grocery store.

There is something exciting about going into a grocery store where everything is strange, including the language. New sights and smells and interesting people were everywhere.

It didn’t take too long, though, before I was feeling very overwhelmed. I filled my trolley with things I HOPED that we could eat or use and frantically tried at the same time to work out if these things were affordable by converting back to Rands. I managed to figure out that they weigh their veggies and fruit at the till, so I had no idea how much the fresh produce cost that I was packing into the see-through bags. There was not a single loaf of bread on the shelve that didn’t look as if it had the nutrient equivalent of cotton. I bought little containers from the diary section hoping that they contained yoghurt as well as some little blocks that might be butter. The only cheese that I recognised, were the really expensive ones, so I just took a random packet. Looking at the trolley full of things, Frans wanted to know how long I thought these things would last us. I didn’t know! I just didn’t know! At this point I didn’t know anything! As I was standing there it dawned on me that during the next 3 years I will be repeating this same feeling of being out of control again and again! When I feel like this I am reminded that God gives us grace for every day and that He is unchanging in a very uncertain world.

After our first success at shopping, supermacados suddenly appeared everywhere! There was a little one on the way home from Rio Sul that was closed the day we passed there. There were some just to left or right from where we looked before. We are stilll finding new ones pop out of the woodwork and we no longer feel that the Rio de Janeiros’ people do not eat. We have even found some really good bread. Freshly baked rolls and a packaged bread that contains 12 types of grain and pieces of Brazil Nuts to boot. It is interesting times in an interesting place.


Here are a list of things that are different in Rio de Janeiro to South Africa:

  • Flour comes in sealed, see-through bags, not paper.
  • Very few vegetables or fruit are pre-packaged. All weighing happens at the till.
  • Beef are sold in humps – not sliced or minced. I think you can ask to have it minced, but I have not even been able to ask whether I can ask to have the beef minced – not enough Portuguese.
  • Plastic bags at the tills are free, but they are terribly flimsy and the packer puts most things into a double bag for strength.
  • I bought small frozen chickens. When I defrosted them, I found that it was the chicken without wings and legs and skin, kept in the chicken-shape.
  • A lot of supermarkets do not take credit cards.
  • There are 3 different types of bananas to choose from.
  • The granadillas are yellow, mostly smooth-skinned and the size of mangoes.
  • No lamb or mutton available.
  • Most stores – unless it is an Extra something – have very narrow isles, and they still use trolleys. Very difficult to negotiate. I witnessed a full blown shouting match between two women because of this issue. They were VERY angry!
  • The stores open at 6:30 in the morning.
  • Most supermarkets are long and narrow, with a small shop front and then keep on expanding more to the back.
  • Nobody speaks English.





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    • Marina Myburgh on March 21, 2015 at 11:31 pm
    • Reply

    Klink na ‘n avontuur om winkels toe te gaan! Maak my dankbaar vir al die verskeidenheid wat hier beskikbaar is

    • Moira Mclauchlan on March 23, 2015 at 4:14 pm
    • Reply

    Such a pleasure to meet this amazing family last night whilst enjoying a great supper at Olivier & Anne-Catherine’s! Really interesting to hear about some of their adventures so far! We’re sure there will be many more! We look forward to seeing you before you leave Rio and will certainly keep up through your blog!

    • Deborah Herd on March 30, 2015 at 9:40 am
    • Reply

    Dear Family Van Zyl,
    I hope this email finds you well. I am a journalist writing a story about three people/families who have given up their normal lives to go on an adventure. I would love to be able to include you in the story. The article is appearing in a magazine called Consider This, which is sent to clients of Prudential. You would have your own double-page spread with lots of pictures and about 400 words of story. Please contact me as soon as possible on my email i would love you to appear in the story. It would be so inspiring.
    Warm regards,
    Deborah Herd

    • Trish Roberts on March 30, 2015 at 10:42 pm
    • Reply

    What an experience! I thought it was bad enough coming to Australia and not recognising brands – even though it is all in english!! Looking forward to some photos!! Have fun over there and enjoy learning some portuguese!!

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