By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A new book, “The Pirates of Ipanema,” chronicles former Rio resident and American expatriate, Brian Waksmunski’s time in Rio de Janeiro and his creation and operation of the now shuttered hostel, Piratas de Ipanema. More than an average memoir, the book also tells the stories of many of the varied characters who passed through the hostel’s doors and explores the difference between vacationing and traveling.
“The idea to tell the story came from the realization, while opening and operating the hostel Piratas de Ipanema on Rua Joaquim Nabuco from 2008 thru 2013,” Waksmunski told The Rio Times, “that perhaps the industry that has sprung up around the modern backpacker, focused so heavily on accommodating and traveler-centric partying, has become a bigger hurdle, a more problematic obstacle for young, intrepid types, than any language barrier or cultural confusion ever was.”
Born and raised in Portage, Pennsylvania, Waksmunki arrived in Rio de Janeiro, by way Los Angeles, California. An avid backpacker, Waksmunski begins the book with the story of a return trip to Rio de Janeiro, a journey made with the end goal of opening a hostel in the city with a girl he had met at bloco (street party) during a previous trip to Rio at Carnival time.
Although things did not go according to plan, Waksmunki did manage to later pair up with a local partner and eventually open the Piratas de Ipanema in the Zona Sul (South Zone) neighborhood of Ipanema in 2008.
“We, my local partner and I, specifically decided to create a sort of ‘anti-hostel’, where the pros and cons were so equally tempting and discouraging,” explained Waksmunski. “A place where guests would have to prioritize what they really were hoping to get from a trip to Rio, and in prioritizing and choosing would learn more about themselves than any all-inclusive, comforts-of-home, chaos-free option could provide.”
He continues, “As standards, regulation and market competition lead hostels to offer more and more pleasure & leisure options, from in-house bars and wifi to shuttle services and guided outings, it seems important to consider what is lost in the name of ‘convenience’.”
When asked about his personal experiences in the city and if his plans and views changed during his time here, Waksmunski said; “Like, I think, a lot of ex-pats, I was wide-eyed by the mega-events my first couple years. The more time I spent in Rio, the more I drifted, first away from the beaches toward the favela culture in Zona Sul.”
“As the book recounts, ” he added, “we were the first hostel taking van loads of guests, at no charge since we never charged anything for excursions or amenities, to the baile funk gatherings in Rocinha and Vidigal, at a time when doing so was unheard of.”
“Then I drifted further, toward Centro and São Cristovão, in pursuit of the history and nuances of samba and forro music, and realizing as I did so that the geography of the city and the dramatic differences in the neighborhoods meant that often-used word, “Carioca”, did not hold so much meaning as I’d thought.”
Asked about the target audience for “The Pirates of Ipanema,” Waksmunki replied; “I believe this book appeals to a broad spectrum, as it is an ever-broader spectrum of ages and social classes endeavoring to travel and explore, to find what is unfamiliar or taboo.”
“Then there are those thinking of making the big move, perma-like, to live and reinvent themselves in another country from where they were born, where the climate, language, worldview, and quirks require adjusting,” Waksmunki continued.
“Maybe some of them will find this story thought-provoking as the narrative is built around three principle characters: myself, an ex-pat with an ambition to influence, my local partner, an aging Ipanema playboy, equally anti-Brazilians and “gringos”, and my wife, who agreed on a whim to rush into marriage for the sake of my visa, then found herself living, entirely unprepared, in a house where both rules and morals often seemed to be discouraged.”
“A great deal of the stories, however, focuses on other characters,” Waksmunki added,” “all based on real globetrotters, and the anecdotes of their misadventures in the city serve as a meditation on the methods of the bolder of the modern travelers.”
When asked what he learned about himself while writing the book and if he had any advice for expats interested in writing about their time in Rio de Janeiro, Waksmunki replied; “When you think of the ‘travel experience’, think of it as a cycle. After an act, there must be reflection on the experience… and after that, if the experience has affected you.”
“The appropriate thing to do is create… anything, a song, a story, a picture, a sculpture made of empty Brahma beer cans… whatever the medium, the creation ought to reflect the personal growth, so that you’re not just contributing to a particular conversation- about Rio or about ‘travel’. or whatever the case may be- but also sort of mining yourself to find what’s changed, and how. Then, you are ready for what’s next.”
“The Pirates of Ipanema” is available from Amazon in paperback and ebook versions, it can be downloaded and read on any iPhone or Andriod device, and on Kindle.