Saturday, February 23, 2013

Rio de Janeiro


Rio. We've heard that one word all of our lives. Associated with that one word are others: Sugar Loaf, Christ the Redeemer, samba, bossa nova, Copacabana, Ipanema, and Carnaval. We know what those places/things are, but they have little meaning until you actually put your foot down on the bit of earth that is called Rio. The enormity, the diversity, the physical layout, the wide range skin color, the heat, the humidity, the energy, the friendliness, the food, the language.......need I go on? When you first arrive all of these things hit you at once and lead to confusion about where you are. We have travelled a good part of South America in the past thirty months and I am not sure this is really South America. The fourth largest country in the world is a place unto itself. Brazil is connected physically to the rest of SAm, but marches to its own beat!

Our flight from Buenos Aires to Rio went well, immigration was quick and customs non-existent for thos of us who had nothing to declare. Our driver, Carlos, was waitingfor us and whisked us off to our condo in the Zona Sul just a few blocks from both Ipanema and Copacabana beaches. The American owner of the condo has made if very comfortable with modedrn appliances (including a washer and dryer!), light colored decor, and many mirrors which give the impression of a much larger space. The high speed wifi soldiered on well until Friday afernoon when it suddenly died! It came back on about noon on Saturday just as we were getting ready to head to McDonalds.

Before Carlos left we arranged the use of one of his private cars and driver for five hours the next day. We hoped for good weather for our visit to some of the major sights in Rio: Christ the Redeemer, the urban rain forest, drive through one of the favelas (slum areas that make up about 30% of Rio's population), and then be dropped off to visit Sugar Loaf on our own.

We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and just half-block from the condo in the Praça General Osório, the weekly "Hippie Fair" was in full swing. A square block of artisanal crafts, paintings, and food vendors awaited us. After cruising through the huge display of local art, RA purchased a couple of small oil paintings to jam into her carry-on. We hope they survive the next few weeks of travel before we Get home.

There are two ways to reach the Cristo Redentor: a two car cog railroad that runs every thirty minutes (books up fast) or by private car/taxi to a parking lot where you board a small 15 pax Mercedes bus for the final 2 km to the base of the monument. The 125' statue looms large as you climb that steps to its base. "The Christ" looks small on top of the 2340' Corcovado (hunchback) Peak when you view it from the city, but once at its foot you are forever impressed with its size. He is gazing directly at Sugar Loaf (Päo de Açúcar).

Cog train up Corcovado
Last bit is on foot
The guide book is little heavy!
Sugar Loaf in the distance
Rear view with snack shop umbrellas

Corcovado is within the Tijuca National Forest, 30000 acres of what is left of the Atlantic rainforest. Mario, our driver, dropped us off at several locations where we then walked a short path to meet up with him again further down the road.

After our stint in the rainforest we took a short drive through Rocinha, the largest favela in Rio. These slums are built right up the steep sids of the mountains here; it like entering another world. Moto taxi riders (identified by their red vests) zoom by on the narrow congested streets with their fare hanging on after they are given a helmet to wear. The favelas exist and the government has been "pacifying" some of them actually setting up police posts inside them and starting progams to help these people improve their lot. It is another fascinating piece of the mosaic that is Rio today.

Mario dropped us off at the entrance for the cable car to Sugar Loaf about 1300. it takes two cable car rides to ascend to the top of this incrfdible granite peak. The first car takes you up about 700' to the top of Morro da Urca and the second to the final height of 1300' about the city. What a view!! You can get a 360° view of the city, the mountains, the bays, and the islands that make up Rio. The granite peaks poke up all around the city making it impossible to see all of the city at one time unless you come in overhead by airplane or helicopter. It is truly an awe inspiring sight! Once on top we also enjoyed watching the air traffic at the Aeroporto Santos Dumont located very near downtown.

One of the original cable cars
Looking down on Morro da Urca
Helipad on Morro da Urca
Lift off!
Copacabana Beach
Mermaid sculpture on Sugar Loaf
Corcovado from Sugar Loaf


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