Long Road to Rio

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand. This is probably the best line that Duran Duran ever wrote and it captures the feeling of Rio de Janeiro, the Marvellous City, perfectly. When I was booking my flight home, there were doubts at my wisdom in choosing Rio as my final stop on this nine month expedition from Mexico. It was an extra country on a crowded itinerary, I needed a visa, Brazil was expensive, and flights from Rio are at a premium to other cities in South America. The City of God washed these away like sins at a baptism. But it didn’t happen immediately. We were supposed to have a free transfer from the bus station to our hostel but hadn’t been told that we needed to email to ask for it and after burning through Cheymus’ phone card with El Misti hostel in Botafogo where we had reserved we were no better off. They couldn’t find our reservation and were also supposed to have emailed them to get the pickup and it was pushing on the deadline of 10 PM for pickups. A guy from Sao Paulo in the food court overheard us talking and offered us his phone to sort things out and we finally got the hostel to agree to pay 2/3 of our cab fare which was as good as we were going to do. That said, there were two of us and I think they could have paid the whole thing but that’s an aside. After the cab was sorted we arrived without further incident and the stop in Rio had begun.

In spite of this original mixup I quite liked the Botafogo Misti and the area itself. The hostel had lots of friendly people, one of the better breakfasts I’ve had included on this trip, and a good layout conducive to meeting people. After our first of such breakfasts, toasty ham and cheese sandwiches, watermelon, honeydew, eggs, cake and juice, Cheymus and I set out. It was a beautiful day and we (I) took the weather for granted somewhat after pretty much non-stop beautiful days all week. Cheymus wanted to do the beach but I wanted to get some sightseeing under my belt first so I could relax more on the beach. But what we ended up doing was basically just walking around. We walked all the way from our hostel in Botafogo to Copacabana, the world famous beach, and had sore necks by the time we left. Brazilian bikinis are a lot more provocative than elsewhere and a lot less material. The plan had been to get back to the iconic Sugar Loaf (Pao do Azucar) mountain that stands over Rio’s beachfront and to the top for sunset but we didn’t make it in time so we watched the sunset from the picturesque Urca neighbourhood below instead.

Redemption Day

The rumour on the street is that the best time to see Christ the Redeemer is early in the morning but like all advice, it is true or false depending on the person receiving it. On the one hand, a morning arrival means that His face is lit up nicely by the morning sun. But your views in the direction of Sugar Loaf and the famous harbour are obstructed by this same light. Further, I was told it was not possible to be up there for sunset, when views over the city must be the nicest anywhere in Rio, but I would later confirm that this is not the case either. Either choice still requires getting there. There are frequent busses right to the base of the statue and from there – usually – you can get on a supposedly fantastic cog rail line to the top. Be warned that lines are long. This option was closed when we got there but we met an Aussie at the base and the smart option for a group of three or more would be to get a taxi up. You can pay 45 to go up and have a cab wait to bring you back down as well from the base which would have worked out to 15/each. Then the ticket to visit Christ and the surrounding park is 26 reals (have I told you yet that their currency is actually pronounces hoy-ays?). Instead we paid 50 each for a shuttle service up and back including entrance ticket. When you get up there, aside from the impressive sight of this imposing and tall figure with arms spread to rising sun and Rio’s most famous areas, the views in all directions are spectacular and it’s not uncommon to lose an hour or two just staring. It’s only polite.

Sweet, Sweet Sugarloaf

In retrospect, much of my quite long stay in Rio was a search for yet another incredible view at this time of day or that. Looking back, I believe I have more sunset photos here than anywhere else – ever. The most iconic part of Rio’s skyline is probably Christ the Redeemer but it’s debatable heel-biting runner-up is the famous double mounds of Pão Azucar or Sugarloaf which shoot up from Rio’s harbour like an eruption of rock frozen in time. The larger of the two mounds is actually Sugarloaf and the smaller Urca. Most people – which, as you may have guessed, means not me – pay 44 reals to take the cable car to the top and back down. But it is an unadvertised fact that you can climb to the top of Urca through an unmarked but decent trail along the side for free. Unlike Christ the Redeemer, there is one best time to be here and that is at sunset. Which brings me to the next unadvertised fact: after 7:00 you can ride down on the cable car for free. So Cheymus and I headed up around 3:30 on the trail and watched a beautiful sunset unfold. We’d planned to only do half the cable car to the top of Sugarloaf (which you can’t walk up but if you’re feeling adventurous you can rock climb with a group) and back for 22 but when we got to the top of Urca, Sugarloaf was glowing in the setting sun and it seemed that we would have nice views from there. I suspect Sugarloaf would also give some beautiful views of Copacabana beach and is probably not to be missed but for the moment, we were happy to save the money after a fairly expensive day up to Christ. It got a bit chilly waiting for 7:00 to come around, so a jacket or sweater is not a bad idea if you’re thinking about doing the cheap way.

Schwaffeling Selaron

We met up with some of Cheymus’ friends in their Copacabana hostel after some bad directions and a bit of wandering but it had been a big day and we were both tired so we didn’t head out to party with them or even, for that matter, stay there with them very long. The next day we were greeted with pretty heavy rain so Cheymus went to say goodbye to his friends while I pretty much chilled out in the hostel, got some laundry done, and met a couple cool Germans and a hilarious Dutch guy who educated us on ‘schwaffel’ which apparently was the word of the year in 2008 or 2009. Its meaning is best left undefined on these pages I think. We stayed up pretty late having drinks and joking and the next day they joined us on our excursion to the centre. First we went to Cinelandia to see an absolutely beautiful theatre and then we walked to the famous Rio steps (as seen in the Snoop Dogg video, Beautiful not to mention several movies) called Escadaria Selaron or Selaron Steps. Selaron is a Chileno artist that lives in Rio and specifically on these steps that he has spent the last twenty years decorating and he was painting on the steps when we arrived. In the summer months he is known to be wearing red speedos, a large moustache, and not much else as he lounges and paints there. He also has an art gallery off the steps featuring pointy-boobed pregnant ladies, sometimes Selaron himself, and painted in blacks and reds and occasionally yellows. I set aside a piece I particularly liked but that still needed varnish and unfortunately never made it back to pick it up.

Our path took us past the viaduct upon which the tram for Santa Theresa crawls to the next stop, a very strange cathedral indeed. It is designed as a truncated cone of concrete with a glass-block cross along its flat top and a wall of stained glass radiating downward from the top. It wasn’t a beautiful place, especially with the overcast sky, but it was worth popping in to check out. From there we walked towards Uruguiana for what I had been led to believe was a crafts market where I could pick up some gifts for home, but it was mostly dodgy electronics shops. It did serve one function in our day’s plan, however, and that was to furnish us with some burgers. Having had enough, we went back to the hostel, stopping on the way to pick up supplies for the five of us to make some pasta. We all pretty much disagreed on the quantity needed of everything: Cheymus had too many onions, so we sent him back to drop one off. Rikkert, the Dutch guy, was sure that Jasmin had too much sauce, and I thought that Philipp had more meat than we needed. In the end, though, we made an excellent Bolognese pasta with some chilli peppers, cinnamon (yup, my touch), ground beef, onion, garlic, and balsamic vinegar. Cheymus did a lot of the cooking and Jasmin offered advice to him while I tinkered with the sauce. The two boys were off Skyping home so we left them to it. Afterwards, we all went out (except for Chey) and had a great time.

Paraty y Para Mi

It was now Friday morning and Cheymus and I had plans to meet up with Cristina and Bruna in a small beach town called Paraty for my final weekend in Brazil. Normally this town would get its own entry but owing to the rain I’m just appending it here. It’s a five hour bus ride from Rio and also 5 hours from Sao Paulo which itself is also five hours from Rio. Everything here is five hours away as though it were some sort of time warp. We stayed at the Misti hostel there which, true to form, didn’t bother to pick us up at the bus station but it didn’t seem to be too far a walk so we just made our way on foot. That night was a quiet night and aside from me doing a bit of walking around and shopping in the drizzling rain over the very dangerous cobbled streets (ankle support is not optional) and then Cheymus watched a movie while I crashed. We had been hoping fervently that Saturday, when the girls arrived, would offer some better weather but it did not. Normally, Paraty has plenty of hikes to beautiful beaches and fishing villages, boat excursions, SCUBA diving, and a plethora of activities. In the rain, there is little to do but eat so once they got settled in we all went out and went for a nice lunch which was followed by an afternoon of hanging out and visiting and a pizza dinner that night. I would say goodbye to all three of them as they went back to Sao Paulo the next day at the bus station because I had to return to Rio to catch my plane out. There were some problems finding accommodation but soon I was sorted out (more or less) and giving them all hugs. Back on the bus, my last for this trip, I returned to the Marvellous City once more.

Rio and Paraty Photos

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