Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Trip Start Jan 26, 2009
Trip End Mar 27, 2009

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

This past week has been a complete but happy blur.  We woke up in Rio de Janeiro to heavy rain and high humidity.  We left the ship and found our guide, Peter Novak, waiting for us as promised.  We climbed into his beat up Fiat (found out later that the guides who used the fancy cars always get robbed whereas an old Fiat is never given a second glance) and headed out to explore the sights, sounds and smells of Rio.  We headed into the older parts of the city (on our way to Santa Teresa), passing by the Arcos da Lapa (an arched aqueduct originally built to supply Santa Teresa with water but now supporting part of the rail line for the Bondinho tram.  We climbing ever higher through narrow, winding, cobble stoned streets to find the Selaron Stairs (decorated with tiles made by Mr. Selaron and donated by individuals from all over the world).  The stairs are well known to the locals but, happily, have yet to be discovered by the tourist hoards. The rain and humidity persist but Peter tells us it is expected to end by early afternoon.  We continue climbing until we encounter a bit of a traffic jam which turns out to be a Carnival gathering in Santa Teresa.  We join in with the locals to await the arrival of the bonde which will bring the band and begin the festive activities.  Everybody is dressed for a party and the press of the crowd builds in expectation of the arrival of the bonde.  Soon we hear music coming up the cobbled streets and the crowd breaks out into song and dance and fall in behind the bonde in celebration of Carnival.  Reluctantly we must leave the festivities as we have so much more to see and do.
We continued to drive in and around Santa Teresa (Peter seems to know everybody and gets us into all of the gated areas so we can appreciate and compare the life styles of the rich and famous to those of the more humbled masses in the Favelas).  Rio is truly a city of contrasts, with modern structures sandwiched between buildings hundreds of years old and with mansions surrounded by abject poverty.  Some areas have all the modern conveniences while one block away one finds raw sewage running down the gutters. 
We could see the Christ the Redeemer statue high above Corcovado and the famous cable cars ascending Sugar Loaf but choose instead to climb into the rainforests of the Parque Nacional da Tijuca which has a number of excellent vantage points to view both and to see the cog railway that climbs to the Christ the Redeemer statue.  Both famous landmarks vanish and reappear within low clouds but happily the rains are now abating, though the humidity seems to have gone up beyond 100%.
We left the park and headed west towards Barra de Tijuca in order to follow the coastal road past the most famous beaches (Tijuca, Pepe, Joatinga, Pepino, Sao Conrado, Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana, to name but a few). We stop briefly at a beautiful little beach very near the Sugar Loaf cable car station (Vermelha Beach, I think) before heading back into the main part of the city where our journey first began.  We abandoned the car and set out on foot in the old port area with it's narrow streets and wonderful old buildings.  We found a delightful little restaurant in a narrow back alley with tables right out on the street and stopped to sample local fare and, of course, the great local beers.  Then it was back to our car and off to Niteroi for a late lunch and more spectacular views of the city from afar.  To reach Niteroi we had to cross the Ponte Rio-Niteroi (I cannot say for sure but I think this bridge would give the PEI crossing a good run for the money).  We climbed up to an ear popping height (I had visions of the gear box giving way and us sliding down the mountain) to a hang gliding ramp that afforded a panoramic view of all of Rio de Janeiro from our Niteroi vantage point.  I wish we had brought along deck chairs and some rum punch because the view was worthy of a long, rum sipping, visit.
Alas, we had to move on so we headed down to a village out of time an place (looked like a typical sleepy Greek fishing village) to enjoy a fantastic meal of local fare.  We had a shrimp appetizer that was fantastic.  We were a little sceptical about eating the shrimp shell and all but after the first bite we were hooked.
All good things must come to an end so we headed back to Rio and our hotel on Copacabana Beach as the sun was setting.  The agency through which we purchased our trip to Iguazu Falls provided us with coupons for each events, including our hotel and airline tickets.  Were we a tad concerned?  You bet.  Happily our concerns were dispelled immediately upon our stepping up to the front desk because they were expecting our arrival.  Armed with renewed confidence, we got settled into our room and then headed out for an evening walk along Copacabana Beach.  We saw no street urcheons and none of the gangs of youth often reported on the Internet.  We did see many other strollers and joggers and crowds on holiday enjoying their time at the beach (this was the end of the school break in Brazil).  We felt absolutely safe.
Our coupon for our escorted drive to the airport did not have a departure time but I did the math and calculated the best time to head down for a buffet breakfast (OK, is there an appropriate word for a buffet with every fruit, drink, or food item under the sun?) before meeting our escort.  Our departure window came and went:  now we are getting a tad concerned.  Jim goes to the front desk in order to verify his estimated times are accurate and they confirm that they are indeed accurate but that I had not allowed for the fact that the local clocks went back an hour over-night.  Duh!
All's well that ends well and we are on our way to the carport to catch the shuttle flight to Iguazu.  We had a private car with both a driver and a guide to describe the sites on the way to the airport and help us get our tickets.  Pampered or what?
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