Ipanema Beach.

Ipanema Beach

In the Tupí language, which belonged to a group of people who are believed to be the original inhabitants of the area and whose language has since gone extinct, “Ipanema” means “stinky lake.” I assure you, nothing stinks in Ipanema these days. It’s probably the most stylish bairro or neighborhood of the city, and it’s simply too expensive to be stinking.

The first time I went to Brazil I wanted to stay in Ipanema. I was chasing that “Girl from Ipanema” song experience. I wanted to be as fabulous as her. I thought someone would notice me if I stayed there, and perhaps even ended up having a song written in my honor.

None of that happened.

Ipanema is full of interesting people. They may not all be able to afford living in those expensive apartments, and they may not all be able to eat in those exquisite restaurants, but these people make the beach colorful, exciting, and simply beautiful.

“I live in Cantagalo,” said the young man, smiling, “It takes me maybe ten or fifteen minutes to come down to the beach,” he began to laugh, adding, “I don’t pay the high rent of this neighborhood, though. I love the women here, they are so open and they love their bodies. I would never go anywhere else.”

That was João. He lives in a favela, a shantytown, just above Ipanema. There’s an elevator that whisks you up to the hill in no time. In fact, you might arrive home in Cantagalo faster than the cool tourists from Copacabana. João pays less than $200 a month for rent, which is something he would have paid at a cheap night’s hotel in Ipanema.

Brazil is a country full of many inequalities. Yet, at the beach everyone seems to find his or her place. Parents are giving their kids much needed experiences at a diverse society. Young people are eyeing each other like young people do. Entrepreneurs of all kinds are giving their luck a good go. In a country full of noise you might even spot that young mind seeking solitude with the waves, far from the noisy shores.

Bem vindo a Ipanema!

AJ Paris is a New York based photographer and the author of the book Rio, released by 011 Media.

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