January 19-20, 2012 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
I don’t think I was prepared for the entry into Rio harbor. It is as if the mountains are meeting the sea, or perhaps as if the sea has risen to the mountain tops. We always hear of Sugar Loaf Mountain, but it is just one of many mountain peaks that the sea envelops. I guess most ports are flat deltas formed where a river or several rivers flow into the sea, whereas Rio is at the mouth of a bay surrounded by mountains, which are granite, not lava. Much like a version of San Francisco, with the hills exaggerated into mountain peaks. It is a beautiful setting – home to a mixture of mountains, ocean, beaches, and a vibrant city of some 6,000,000 people.
Our entry into the harbor early in the morning, shortly after dawn was like a tour of its own, we made our way around the peaks and docked at the cruise terminal which is right in the middle of downtown Rio.
There is a massive amount of construction underway all around the city in preparation for Carnivale next month, The World Cup in 2014, and the Olympics in 2016. The downtown area, particularly around the waterfront is being completely rebuilt. It is encouraging to see construction everywhere in the city, even though it makes it difficult to get around.
Our first excursion in Rio was to Sugar Loaf. Like everything in the city, it was extremely crowded – a very popular attraction. To get to the top, one takes two cable cars. The first is to a smaller hill about half way up, where you transfer to a second cable car which takes you to the top. The view from the top is spectacular, with vistas of every part of Rio de Janeiro.
From Sugar Loaf we headed to the beaches – seeing Ipanema and Copacabana, plus several other lesser known beaches. Even though it was a work day, there were literally hundreds of thousands of people on the beaches – which are some of the longest I have ever seen. Copacabana beach is almost 4 miles long.
The Brazilian thong bathing suits were in abundance, though I would have to say that many of the women wearing them were closer to NFL linemen than Brazilian super models. The men also sported abbreviated bikini style bathing suits. The amount and variety of beach sports was impressive – soccer, volleyball, etc.
Our tour the next day took us to view Christ the Redeemer – the famous statue, perched high on a mountain, about 2500 feet above the city. En route we passed the area being prepared for Carnivale. I had always assumed that the Samba dancers we always see on the news, was a semi-unorganized parade through the streets, similar to New Orleans Mardi Gras. It actually takes place in a specially constructed parade/arena which seats about 100,000 people on either side of a “street” where for 3 uninterrupted days the Samba Schools each put on their best Samba performance. They are each allowed exactly 82 minutes for their performance – strictly regulated.
The Christ the Redeemer offers not only the spectacular statue which is about 50 or 60 feet high, perched on a mountain top above Rio, but tremendous views of the city from the foot of the statue.