Rio de Janeiro

November 22

Brazil is a big country. Our boarding in Manaus on the 18th was a bit chaotic and apprehensive. Traveling becomes more challenging when one does not read or understand the local language. Brazil is a prideful and bold country. Portuguese is the national language and the national attitude is “if you want to do business in our country you must communicate in the language of our country”. All signs are in Portuguese – and I do not fault this – but a sprinkling of signs are also presented in English. Even emergency alerts may be only in Portuguese.

Sorry for that rant. Getting through the check in line was tense enough but then, in a mixture of Portuguese and English, we found out that our total weight limit of all bags was exceeded by 5 kilos...  go back out and pay 25 Rials. More waiting... pay 100 Rials!! Actually, 20 Rials per kilo. Back through check in. Loud announcements. In Portuguese of course. We made it onboard ok and arrived in Rio on time, but it took over an hour for our luggage to appear. Fortunately, our driver was patient and greeted us with a huge smile.

The next day, was a bit long. What had been scheduled as two half-day tours had become compressed into one day. (We suspect that happened because the 20th was a Holiday). In the morning, we toured a “favela”. Some may classify a favela as a slum – and it certainly does appear to be a poorer neighborhood – but in fact, it is a functional community within the city. It was explained that through the history of Brazil, there have been a series of revolutions with winners and losers. At some point, some people did not accept the established rules and headed for the steep rugged terrain sheltered by dense vegetation. The leaves of a certain tree, a fuvela tree, were useful as a green facial pigment for camouflage. These enclaves persisted and eventually were accepted –or, perhaps, tolerated – by the government. Today, they comprise a proud way of life.

Access by any vehicle to the fuvela ends where the road ends at the edge of the favela. From there, it is all on foot. Uphill. Steep uphill. On foot. Loads are on shoulders. Five gallon jugs of water. Two cases of soda. Flat screen TV. Everything.

Walkways are narrow, concrete, angular, and unprotected. These are unplanned communities. But, they are clean and neat. Haphazard but orderly. People were friendly. Some had flowers. Quarters were cramped but functional. Just a whole different way of life amid the glitter of Rio de Janeiro.

Our evening tour came in two parts. For the first, we were caught entirely off guard. It was a dinner. But it was more like an experience. We were seated and pointed toward the salad bar. We went down one side and picked various items. I tried to be conservative but tried a small bit of many items, some of which, I did not know what they were.  I planned to go back to check out the other items but suddenly, a server appeared with a long skewer filled with meat, dripping in juices, in one hand and a big butcher knife in the other. He was speaking in some foreign language. He whacked off a piece of dark colored grilled meat. Immediately, he was replaced by another server with a different skewer of dark colored, dripping meat. They just kept coming! Everything from pork sausage to chicken livers. Six or eight cuts of beef. Pork roast. Ribs. Chicken legs. All with different spices, flavors, and textures. Oh my. Enough! And forget that other line of salad bar. Then, they brought dessert. Mercifully, it was a modest scoop of good vanilla ice cream with some fresh fruit. And coffee. What a meal.

Our driver was right there with his broad grin. We were transported to another venue and he guided us past the entry and directly to our seats for the Samba show! The dancers and dances were a representation of Carnival dancers and a bit of the history of Brazilian culture. Costumes were bright and gaudy. Some were skimpy. Music was loud and fast. And the dances were energetic. There was some gymnastics and other performances. All in all it was a fun evening and a miniscule glimpse of what the Carnival dances had to offer.

We had some time on our own. It rained early on but we strolled on Copacabana Beach. We relaxed at the pool on the roof of our hotel where we took pictures of the sunset and watched the frigate birds soar past. In early evening, the rest of our tour group arrived from their Andes adventure. Most talked more about altitude sickness rather than Machu Pichu or Lake Titicaca.

In the morning, we bussed across the city and rode a small railroad up and through a forested area to the base of the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer. It is visible from so many parts of the city that it practically dominates the skyline. It is most impressive. You cannot prevent yourself from taking one picture after another whether from near or far.

Lunch was another adventure with the biggest salad bar that you can imagine in the most wildly, eclectically decorated restaurant that you can imagine. But the food was again outstanding. Later, a quick dip in the surf.

November 22

Happy Thanksgiving!!

In a couple hours we will go on a city tour and a ride to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain.

November 23

We had a leisure time in Rio. There were three fun morning tours. The first is a “must do” if you are in Rio. A visit to the famous statue “Christ the Redeemer”. Rio de Janeiro has the most impressive natural skyline of any city that I know about. The city is ringed by steep mountains. This rim of mountains is liberally sprinkled with distinctive individual, cone shaped peaks that march into the harbor and beyond. (I surmise that these peaks are hardrock cores of ancient volcanoes.) That said, the statue pretty much dominates the dramatic natural skyline. It is visible from almost all parts of the city. It seems that it is always looking after us. It maintains its sense of presence even up close. Never have so many pictures been taken by so few in such a short period of time. Each angle and each photo is better than the last. Much sorting and editing will ensue.

After the tour, we went for a dinner buffet at a restaurant at the end of the Copacabana Beach and District. From the outside, aside from the 10-foot tall ancient anchor with a great pile of marine encrustation-fused anchor chain, the place did not appear special, but, inside, it abruptly became unique and eclectic, almost bizarre. Every wall and cranny was filled with some sort of some sort of odd or antique something. Some areas were a jumble. Some areas followed a theme: old dishes, ship gauges or lights, antique tools. The waiters wore pirate attire. And the food did not disappoint! A salad bar of herculean proportions. Not necessarily large amounts of anything, but each of so much with ample amounts. There were things we are familiar with: boiled eggs, lettuce, slaw. There were surprises: octopus salad, stuffed calamari, fish. And there were items that one could only guess what they might be. As we finished our “salad”, meats began to appear. Mostly beef cuts – the tenderloin was wonderful – but the favorite seemed to be wild boar ribs.

A second fascinating morning tour was to Sugarloaf Mountain for a panoramic view of Rio de Janeiro. Sugarloaf Mountain is one of those steep sided peaks. Perhaps the most famous. The name is an interesting function of history. It began in the 1500’s when a Portuguese expedition entered the bay on a January 1 but incorrectly identified it as the mouth of a river… hence the name… Rio (River) de (of) Janeiro (January). Sugarloaf Mountain was so named because it had the appearance of a “sugarloaf” which was made by pouring sugarcane juice into a cone shaped container and allowed to drip and evaporate for 40 days. Inverted and tapped free, it was a miniature version of the mountain. Hence that name.

Access to the top of the mountain is via a series of two cable cars and the view from the top is the great reward. Longitudinal views of Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches and others. The inner harbor with a seemingly haphazard, complex blend of different kinds of boats doing all the different kinds of things that boats do. The bustling city and busy streets filled bumper to bumper with cars, trucks, taxis, delivery trucks, and more with each and every one vying and jockeying for the fastest speeds and best position. Sea lanes with a confetti of transports and container ships all waiting for an open berth. Rio de Janeiro is a port city, just as Manaus. They just serve a different part of the country with different products and different volume. The cable car rides were brief and functional but still fun. And I would be remiss to not mention little monkey-like or squirrel-like marmosets with their tiny, bright wyes and dainty, gently ringed tails.

We had a brief city tour on our way from Sugarloaf to our hotel. The most memorable and most impressive item on the tour was the cathedral. Recall, Brazil is primarily a Catholic society. Some years ago, the archbishop recognized the need for a bigger cathedral and he also recognized the shortness of fund. He challenged the architectural student body to design a new cathedral that was inexpensive, easy to construct, and spacious. The new cathedral is a four sided pyramid shaped structure constructed from abundant and cheap concrete and rebar. (Operational costs are also minimal because the design allows ample free air movement.)

Supper was another fun event. Décor was again eclectic, but eclectic by design. Available wall space merely became a space to display a modest collection of antiques. Brass instruments here. Old table radios there. Dolls, over there. Here is some room for tools. In a corner, Snow White and those seven other guys – lawn ornaments. Meanwhile, the band pumped out Samba music. For the meal, four of us formed an alliance and shared five hor d'oeuvres. Cod balls, shrimp in cheese, dried beef sticks, and others. And the band played on. Samba music. We rode down an antique elevator, watched the band for a bit, and soared back to the hotel in a taxi.

Another morning, Karel and I, with three others took a birdwatching tour in the botanical gardens. Both the birdwatching and the gardens were delightful. I made no attempt to keep track of all we saw. Most, I could not pronounce, spell, or remember so I just enjoyed the sightings for what they were. But we saw egrets and herons, thrushes and tanagers. Several sightings of toucans and one tree with about a dozen hummingbirds. And the orchid house was a treat, too.

This afternoon, some of us went through the roof. Up on top of the 20th floor where we relaxed in the (small) pool wit the grand view, especially of Copacabana Beach, the statue, and some sunsets. Our last evening in Rio de Janeiro was punctuated with another unusual experience. We had supper in the diner where the Girl from Epanema” was written. Epanema and Copacabana are neighborhoods that are fringed by beaches of the same name. It seems that a bunch of guys who frequented this diner routinely checked out the young ladies as they walked to the beach. Eventually, they recognized a particular young lady who passed by at about the same time each day. One of the guys wrote a poem about the girl from Ipanema. Eventually, music was added and the song was created.

Oh. I almost forgot…   another interesting stop during our city tour of Rio - how could one forget this – was a stop at the Carnival Headquarters? Now THIS is Big Business!! Full time, year round jobs. Carnival in Rio de Janeiro lasts four days. This includes both formal parade competitions in the permanent grandstands as well as innumerous registered parades in subdivisions all over the city. This tour included an exhibit of costumes.