The January River City: Rio de Janeiro

Published: June 5th 2015
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Wednesday 3rd June 2015

Our journey back from the Rio Mamori to Manaus was without incident as was the four hour flight to Rio, which arrived on time at 23.15. Since we were arriving late at night, we had asked for an airport pick up to the hotel, which we had booked online before going to Mamori, but since we hadn´t received any confirmation, we were half expecting not to get it and we didn´t! However, it was easy to get a taxi and we got to our hotel just after midnight. After the jungle experience, we wanted a bit of luxury, so booked four nights in a nice boutique hotel in the old district of Santa Teresa, which justifiably boasts the best views in Rio. From our spacious 15 square metre terrace, we have a view of Christ the Redeemer to our right, on top of Mount Corcovado and the Sugarloaf and Guanabara Bay to our left; a pretty fine panorama! Christ the Redeemer is 38 metres high, and when the clouds surround the top of the mountain, he looks like he is standing on them. At night, he is lit up and looks positively ethereal when it is
Out of the jungle... Out of the jungle... Out of the jungle...

...going back to Manaus for the flight to Rio

Rio is the second largest city in Brazil and its location is sensational; lush rainforest and mountains as a backdrop to the island-studded coastline. Rio was founded by the Portuguese in 1565 and remained part of the Portuguese Empire until 1815, when it was raised to the status of a Portuguese Kingdom, until the Brazilian War of Independence, which began in 1822.

Santa Teresa is an interesting district, located on top of Santa Teresa Hill, famous for its narrow, winding, steep streets and its popularity with artists. It has a faded elegance, with some of the grand old mansions in disrepair, whilst others have now been renovated. It is also well-known for its old trams, reminiscent of the cable cars of San Francisco. Unfortunately for us, they are not running at the moment, with the tramlines and roads under repair, in preparation for their use next year when the Olympics will be held here. This will be the first time a South American country has hosted the Olympics, so 2016 will be very important for the city. Santa Teresa is a lush district, with lots of trees where little Miko Monkeys live. We have enjoyed seeing them run along the wall just below our terrace. We didn´t expect to see monkeys in the city. Tamarind monkeys also live here but we haven´t seen any.

Today we did something we never usually do and that is we took a city tour. Usually we just do our own thing and we should have done so. No more city tours for us. We were picked up at midday and then spent the next two hours in the Rio traffic going around to different hotels along Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, which are nothing special, picking up people until the thirteen seat minibus was full. Then, we headed back towards our district of Santa Teresa to go up the Corcovado to Christ the Redeemer. Why we were picked up first is a mystery! It was great up there, however, on the top of Corcovado, with spectacular views of the city, but we could have just got a taxi there ourselves for less money and in a much shorter time. Our mistake!

The drive up the Corcovado is steep and winding through lush rainforest. Rio is a very green city and has the largest amount of natural rainforest in a central city location than anywhere else. Christ the Redeemer took nine years to design and build. It was started in 1922, to celebrate one hundred years of independence from Portugal, and completed in 1931. The statue is not huge, it is 30 metres high on an 8 metre plinth. One young New Yorker in our group expressed his disappointment at… “How small it is, man! Our Statue of Liberty is way bigger AND you can go up inside it!” He has missed the point that, unlike the Statue of Liberty, which is indeed stunning, the Redeemer is not at sea level, and would look totally overpowering if it were any bigger, perched on top of the Corcovado. As it is, it is a stunning icon, perfectly in proportion to its surroundings.

Next stop was Santa Teresa; great for those from Ipanema but this is where we are staying! Then we went to the Selaron Steps, which were well worth seeing. The Chilean artist, Selaron, lived in Rio and little by little he turned the stepped street where he lived into a facsimile of the steps he had painted in Valparaiso, but decorated with ceramic tiles rather than paint. We didn´t know this, but as soon as we got there we said, “This looks like Valparaiso!” Over the years other people from all over the world, have donated tiles to be added and the result is delightful.

Our next stop was to be the cathedral, but after being stuck in a traffic jam for over one hour, we all agreed to give this a miss and head for the Sugarloaf. We didn´t get to the bottom of the Sugarloaf until 6 p.m. The problem with this is that it is dark in Rio by 5.30 p.m. So, having waited two days for good sunny weather to go up the two cable cars to the top of the Sugarloaf, for the views, we ended up going up there in the dark. The city lights looked pretty enough, but this was a big disappointment. Travel tip: if you go to Rio, take a tour that starts earlier in the day or better still, take a taxi. Taxi travel is good in Rio, all metred and not expensive; the tour was very expensive, well overpriced! We got back here to the hotel at 9 p.m. We were three hours late, the last drop off and starving hungry. Oh well, it was still a good day, Rio is a great city, but it could have been so much better.

Tomorrow is a national holiday for the feast of Corpus Christi, so as we are writing this blog, at midnight, the fireworks are being let off and dogs are barking and howling; we thought it was only our dogs at home that hated the bangs! We have just finished packing the rucksacks because tomorrow morning (this morning now) we are leaving Rio and getting a bus heading south. We are going to Ilha Grande (Big Island) on the Costa Verde, only about three hours’ drive south of Rio. Actually, it isn´t a very big island and only has a population of about 5,000, but it is the largest of the tropical islands which are dotted all along the coast. This is to be the first stop on the journey down to the border and the Iguazu Falls, which we are doing overland by bus and plan to spend quite a few weeks doing it. We are not sure how long we shall stay in Ilha Grande, depends on how much we like it and then we shall decide where to get a bus to next. So, back on the road again!

We think that Rio has probably the most beautiful setting for a city in the world. Rio is a violent and dangerous city, we actually saw a bag snatch yesterday as we were getting out of a taxi downtown, where we had gone to find an ATM machine. People just walked by ignoring it. It happens all the time. We ignored it too, after all it could all have been a little show, to attract our attention. The hotels along the beaches all have high metal fences in front of them or razor wire along the perimeter walls. Security guards are employed to stand beside the ATM machines and by the checkouts in the supermarkets! Rio is also exquisitely beautiful; quite a paradox.

We have really enjoyed it here but we have felt a little vulnerable at times, which is why we took the city tour. So…

“Farewell, January River City. Glad we have seen you!”

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