If you’ve never been to Brazil, I am here to tell you to GO! It’s a land of incredible beauty, passionate people, and delicious food. This has never more apparent to me than it was on our trip to Rio over the last two weeks. All but one of my trips to Brazil previously have been for tournaments which mandated all of my focus and required such rest and recovery that I opted to stay in rather than go out and explore in between trainings and matches. I will say I believe this was the right thing to do and wouldn’t change it, but I feel so lucky that we were able to make this training trip happen that allowed me to see so much more than I had before.
Brazil was actually the first country I ever got to visit. In high school I joined my church group for a trip down to Sao Paulo to help build a seminary building, which would also be used for a school. It was a life changing experience and sowed the need to see the world deep within me. While we were down there our group took a few days to visit a secluded hidden beach a few hours away in the town of Ubatuba. We literally had to hike through the jungle to find the beach, and it was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had to date. I can still vividly picture the beach and how it opened up in front of us after climbing though the trees. We also walked the street fairs perusing the local art and street performers, it just felt so alive. It’s also the first time I tasted heart of palm, which is still one of my favorite foods!
So here I am twenty years later, so grateful to still be traveling the world and finding new things places like Brazil have to offer. This last trip was for training which we made the priority, but there’s just a different level of freedom when you’re not there to compete. My favorite experience this time around was, not surprisingly, the same as my first time- finding a secret beach only known to the locals. It also took some climbing and traversing rugged rock to get to the beach, but once we made it the beauty blew us away. The water was a perfect dark turquoise color, surrounded by gorgeous red rock cliffs topped with palm trees, and the cool temp of the ocean saved us from the unrelenting sun beating down on the sand that day. We alternated between hanging out on the beach and taking dips in the ocean until the tide threatened to flood our path home so we reluctantly left in order to not get trapped in.
Every time I’ve visited Rio, including for the 2016 Olympics I’ve stayed in Copacabana. This time we rented a place in Ipanema and it was a game changer. We were walking distance to a super fun beach where everyone played foot volley or relaxed under their colorful umbrellas drinking beer or coconut water on the weekends. We could also walk to multiple great restaurants, there were actually too many of them for us to get to on this trip. And there was the shopping, so many cute boutiques in the area as well. Not to mention simply walking around the city is an experience with huge trees exploding out of the sidewalk every twenty feet, it really feels like the jungle could completely overtake the the city in no time at all if left untended. I couldn’t stop thinking of it as the literal urban jungle. On top of all of that I couldn’t get enough of the fresh papaya and mango, the best I’ve ever had. Add in the acai shops and cafes serving pao de queijo and cappuccinos around every corner and it comes pretty close to paradise in my opinion.
And oh yeah, the training was great as well 😉 I’m so glad we went, if only for that reason. With no competitions on the schedule in the near future we knew we needed a way to keep us fully engaged in training. Practicing with some of the best teams in the world was a great way to narrow our focus, the warm weather and gorgeous beaches was a huge bonus. We got some good sessions with Agatha and Duda, Carol and Talita, Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson, and some other local teams. It was also a great opportunity to fast forward our learning curve with our new coach Angie Akers. I really feel like we were able to iron out some kinks, explore some new aspects of our operating system we are working to integrate, and test what we’ve been working on the last few months against some top tier teams. To say it was beneficial is an understatement. We also spent a lot of time reviewing video which led to some great discussions around techniques and strategies which further accelerated our cohesiveness as a team. The ability to singularly focus on volleyball, especially during this time was a blessing.
And as far as the Covid situation down there goes, everyone was taking it really seriously. I would say if anything the mask wearing policies were more stringent down there than even in California and social distancing was equally encouraged. Our temperatures were taken frequently and everyone wore masks everywhere, even when jogging along the beach or walking their dogs. It felt like we were able to take every precaution we would have at home, or more, while we were there.
This was my first training trip ever, which I can and can’t believe. I’ve been blessed to have very full seasons between the AVP and FIVB for the duration of my career which has never left much time or energy to take an additional trip. Time at home has always felt too precious to sacrifice in the offseason, especially considering I live in one of the best places to train for beach volleyball on the planet, so never much need to leave. This year obviously has been much different. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time at home, and honestly, in ways it’s been really nice, but it’s also left me with a craving for travel again. And I think I’ve taken for granted the opportunity to play against the best teams in the world over and over again during a normal season. This time away has shown me how much I value it. Alix and I have had a blast competing against our compatriots all year, but it was nice and necessary to find some competition outside our borders. Not to mention, different countries play different styles of beach volleyball, so it’s important to not get too used to the American way and forget how to play against different styles. So needless to say at this point, I’d really look forward to another training trip down to Brazil, but even more than that I would love a schedule that doesn’t allow time to squeeze in another one, i.e. a full AVP and FIVB schedule starting in the early Spring of 2021. Here’s hoping for the best, but in any case making the most of it!