The world’s fittest beach is…

[words and photograph © Mark Eveleigh]

The promenade at Ipanema could almost be a conveyor belt out of some utopian factory dedicated to the creation of the perfect body. From sunrise to sunset it’s a permanent procession of healthy, tanned bodies.

Rio de Janeiro’s beaches are divided into sections, known for the coast-guard posts: Posto 7, nearest to Copacabana, is Ipanema’s surfing area and the favourite haunt of the kids who come down from the nearby favela; Posto 8, proudly flaunting its multicoloured banners, is the gay section. Posto 9 is considered the chic area. It was here that the song “Girl from Ipanema” was written.

I’m standing near the couch-potato section at Posto 10. Down on the sand, four quick-fire volleyball games are underway and a group of men are playing beach football. The cycle track behind me is thick with cyclists, skaters, skateboarders, joggers, speed-walkers…

Posto 10 has a reputation of being the most laid back part of Ipanema. This is the “lazy” area. Of course there are those who go to the beach simply to relax. To rent parasols and buy refreshments and souvenirs from the barraqueiros, the (often elderly) “beach-boys”. Globo biscuits and refreshing lemon-flavoured mate tea are the traditional fare. Men dressed in Arab costumes shuffle through the sandy miles selling little triangles of meat-stuffed esfiha (similar to somosas).

Fifty-three year old Januário sells other triangles: “Bikinis of all sizes,” he says, “right from mini-mangoes up to triple-handful.” His friend Antonio has also spent half his life patrolling Ipanema’s iconic black-and-white pavements selling his cangas (sarongs). They are made in Indonesia but carry images of the Rio skyline. “So many people come here running and cycling…” he laughs, “but I’ve probably covered more miles of Ipanema than anyone living.”

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