Exploring Rio de Janeiro

Friday 9 to Thursday 15 March

Our last destination was Rio de Janeiro. We were looking forward to seeing this iconic city so we considered our accommodation carefully – somewhere central to the action but not over the top in price. We settled for the rather outlandish sounding Best Western Premier Arpoador Fashion Hotel. It certainly met its promise, with a continual fashion parade on screen in the foyer and numerous photos of fashion, in any form. We even had a sideway view of Mirante do Morro Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers Mountain lookout) at the end of Ipanema Beach.

It was late in the evening when we arrived, so we opted to eat in the hotel. We seldom eat in our hotel, preferring to explore the local restaurants instead, but this eatery was fantastic.

Sitting between the famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches there was lots to explore. We wandered down to the beach and the Ponta do Arpoador which sits between them. Of course the beaches were full. It was a lazy day, just exploring our new ‘hood.

We chose a very touristy place for dinner, the Carretão Classic Grill. The grilled meat on skewers was brought to the table. A salad bar had everything, from Japanese treats of sushi and sashimi to Spanish cold cuts including jamon and pickles, cooked and salad veggies. 

It is always a challenge to entertain yourselves on a Sunday in a big city. Commerce and the city life shuts down, so we try and go where locals go. We chose a little culture and we wandered into the town to see the Museu de Arte Moderna. It is set in a lovely park and we were particularly taken by the indigenous trees, especially the cannonball tree (Couroupita guianensis) with its massive flowers and fruits. The exhibitions were great, Fluxo Bruto by José Bechara and a photographic exhibition of Metaelementi by Lucio Salvatore. We had a very enjoyable walk along Flamingo Beach, which offered fantastic views of Sugarloaf. This is a reclaimed area which appeared to be more popular with the locals leaving the tourists to crowd the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches.

Rio de Janeiro is a huge city, and we realised we could never manage to explore it on our own so we opted for the One Day in Rio Tour.

We started with the obligatory tour of Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf). There are two cable cars to reach the summit. The first takes you to Morro da Urca where you already get stunning views over the city and the beaches. It was morning and not too hazy. The second crosses the valley between the two rocks up to Sugarloaf itself. The ride was fantastic, hanging above the valley. Rio is surrounded by rocky mountains which provide a stunning vista, from the CBD to Cristo on Corcovado (Hunchback) to the CBD.

There was a nice exhibition on Morro da Urca, which we saw on our return journey, dedicated to the cocuruta (cable cars) that have brought tourists here since 1911. we were also entertained by the common marmoset or White-tufted-ear marmoset (Callithrix jacchus) as they jumped around the trees.

The Portuguese arrived in what is now Rio de Janeiro on 1st January 1509 and thought the narrow opening to Guanabara Bay was a river mouth and named it the ‘river of January’. They were interested in the Pau Brasil (Caesalpina Achinata or Brazil Tree) with its strong red wood, suitable for boat building as well as a red dye. The country was named after the tree.

Our next tour stop was the San Sebastián cathedral, named after the patron saint of Rio de Janeiro. It is ugly outside and not much better inside. It was built as an Aztec pyramid using concrete and glass but without the subtleness of the cathedral in Brasilia.

There is a Mother Teresa statue outside the cathedral, gifted by the people of Albania on the occasion of her canonisation.

We drove past the opera house, the library, the Theatro Municipal and past the Flamenco Park. And that was our morning tour of Rio de Janeiro. 

Next was lunch. We were taken to the same restaurant we had eaten at on Saturday night. We were now the experts, able to explain to our fellow sightseers how the restaurant worked. Now we understood why it was such a large venue – to cater for the sightseeing crowds. We chatted to a NZ couple who had also done Antarctic Cruise and had a very similar experience. 

The afternoon tour was more drive pasts. Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, the samba drome, did I miss Estádio do Maracanã (football stadium)?

Evan and Steph had visited Rio de Janeiro early in 2013. They had applied to dance in the Carnaval do Rio de Janeiro, paid their entry fees, practiced the dance routine, picked up their costumes and then on a very hot and steamy night lined up with hundreds of others to dance the 570 metres down the Sambódromo. It was special to see where they had been.

Finally, we reached the cog train for Cristo. It was a scramble to get on, absolutely chock-a-block and difficult to watch the scenery as we chugged up 710 metres to the Corcovado (Hunchback).

It was crowded at the top and the sunshine was bright, but on Jesu Cristo’s back. That made for some challenging backlit photos. But what a view!

We finished our tour driving back along Ipanema and Cocacabana beaches. Copacabana is named after same place on Lake Titicaca and means shimmering horizon whereas Ipanema means worthless water and was not taken from the beach but perhaps the land behind.

It was a frustrating tour – we spent a lot of time waiting for other tourists to be picked up and apart from Sugarloaf, the cathedral and Cristo, spent most of the day sitting on the bus. I think I am getting weary of escorted tours which try to fill everyone’s requirements.

We set out next day to explore Centro Histórico the historical town centre that we had rushed past during our tour. Between outbursts of rain we found the beautiful buildings of  Câmara Municipal do Rio de Janeiro (Town Hall), Theatro Municipal (Opera House), Museu Nacional de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Museum), a statue of Mahatma Ghandi, and a mural to remember Ayrton Senna.

There was a beautiful but endangered Brazil Tree (endangered), and the Arcos da Lapa (aqueduct), built in the middle of the 18th century to bring fresh water from the Carioca River to the population of the city.

We had tamed Metro Rio, the three lined metro system, so took it to Antero de Quental in the upmarket Lennon area and then walked to Jardim Botânico.

A visit to local botanical gardens is always a treat for me, and these were superb. Founded in 1808 by the Prince Regent D João, it is diverse with an array of avenues and sculptures.

It was a long day, we had walked more than 17km. It seemed appropriate that the next day we took a tour out of town to Petrópolis and rested our weary legs.

When we arrived back we were walking out for dinner and decided to photograph the street signs. They are illuminated at night and carry a wealth of information. A lady stopped us and explained that it was very dangerous in this part of Rio to have a camera on display.

We survived the dangers and flew home the next day. The flight via Santiago took us over Antarctica, going further south than we did on our cruise down there, with glimpses of the ice sheet.

It had been an amazing but long haul – loosing my brother Phil, a broken website, two broken computers, and a broken backup drive. It took some time to recover, not only emotionally but also rebuilding this website.