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Martin Foreman

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Beauties on the Beach

Rio de Janeiro, 2009: What a difference 30 years makes... In the days of my youth (or should that be the days of my youths...?) the only gay beach in Rio was a small stretch in front of the Copacabana Palace Hotel. It was the patch of sand where the sound of the waves was drowned out by the screams of the travestis. Perhaps a hundred or so men gathered there at weekends. Bodies were slim, speedos were narrow and tight. Muscles were implied rather than overstated. Rich and poor, old and young, carioca and gringo mingled.

Fast forward. Yes, some gays still go to Copacabana, and the stretch of sand opposite Rua Farme de Amoedo in Ipanema has its devotees, but the place for gay men now is opposite the Coqueirão (large coconut tree - also the name of the one of the beach bars) between Rua Joana Angélica and Rua Maria Quitéria. Here at weekends on a sunny summer's day you will find hundreds of men - and quite a few Real Women. Bodies are buffed, speedos baggy and wide. Muscles are obligatory. The sweet smell of maconha - marijuana - lingers in the air. Carioca and gringo still mingle but the old and young have disappeared - whatever your real age, you have to look between 30 and 40. And the poor have disappeared or are well disguised; no-one admits to being less than middle-class and professional.

It's also packed - you negotiate a slow and difficult path from road to water between countless deckchairs, parasols and sweating bodies. It's noisy - vendors incessantly shouting cerveja, sorvete, mate - limão (beer, ice-cream, cold teas) in addition to fruits, towels, kebabs and so on. It's hot - the sun beating down and the bodies around you. It's nerve-wracking - is my money safe; who's looking after my shorts while I'm in the water?. In other words it's heaven or hell, depending on your state of mind... But wait until you have drunk a couple of beers, the sun has almost sunk behind the Two Brothers mountains and most of the crowd has dispersed and you are sitting there with good friends or your boyfriend, and for a short time life is perfect and you are in another world...

You can maintain that feeling for another hour or so, by imbibing a beer or a caipirinha or two in the street outside Tô Nem Ai (lit: I'm not there; slang: I don't care) the bar on the corner of Farme do Ameodo and Visconde de Pirajá. There you will see that newest phenonmenon - hunky half-naked men embracing and French kissing in the street. Rio really has changed...

When day turns to night, 2.5c = 1e

Quick tips for Rio visitors

• check and its straight counterpart for basic info about Rio, particularly beach etiquette and beachwear

• but ignore these two websites if you want to check out the latest gay bars. They sent my friend and me on a wild goosechase, since three of the bars it recommended (Fosfobar in Copacabana, Redondo and Guanabara in Leblon) have closed.

• for uptodate information on where to go, check out Yes, it's in Portuguese, but don't let that put you off; the list is comprehensive and easy to understand.

• everyone knows, of course, that the gay nightclub in Rio, where all the tanned, overbuffed, shirtless handsome men go, is The Week. Trust me, you'll love it - it's just like London or New York...

• definitely go to Le Boy nightclub - but avoid Le Boy bar two doors to its left. An entrance fee at a nightclub is acceptable, but a fee of R$20+ (£6+ / €7 / $9+), just to get into a nondescript bar, with no drink included, is customer abuse.

• everything you've heard about Rio men is true. They're handsome and sexy and many of them meet each other in the streets rather than in the bars. But they can also be homophobic and violent, so unless you're street-smart and have a smattering of Portuguese, be careful and considerate when dealing with strangers. And in any country where there is widespread poverty, leave your valuables at home or your hotel and think carefully about who you want to bring back with you.

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