25 May 2012

Rio de Janeiro – Mar 2012

Tall and tan and young and lovely
The girl from Ipanema goes walking
And when she passes, each one she passes
Goes "A-a-a-h"
When she walks she's like a samba
When she walks, she's like a samba
That swings so cool and sways so gentle
That when she passes, each one she passes
Goes "A-a-a-h"

Rio de Janeiro is locally pronounced as ‘Hee-oh dae shanairo’. And let me tell you that it’s not so easy, as was evident from all the twisted faces that we made as Ronaldo taught it to us on our ride from the airport to the hotel. And we are introduced, in a lighter vein, to the City Wars - Rio de Janeiro vs São Paulo. We are stuck in a traffic jam, which is unusual for Rio as per our guide. Traffic jams are found only in São Paulo!!!

Rio has long been romanticized - whether by the 1962′s hit “Girl from Ipanema” or more recently, when Cristo Redentor was selected as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. It is difficult to resist a city that’s wedged between lush jungle and crystal-clear ocean – no wonder it is the most visited city in the Southern hemisphere.

Sunrise on CopocabanaIt was a bit late by the time we reached the hotel. Some of us decide to go and experience the vibrant night life later and try the Caipirinha (again recommended by Laura). I wanted to go, but a 10 minutes stretch on the bed turns into a deep slumber! So again, am up at 4:00 freakin' AM. Luckily for me, I had a roomie who just gets up with me without a sigh!!! We decide to go to the Copacabana beach, only a 10 mins walk from our hotel, for an early morning walk. Copacabana beach, considered one of the top 10 beaches of the world, hosts the biggest outdoor New Year party every year. And everyone wears white!!!

It was simply beautiful – the sunrise, the coast-hugging mountains including the famous Sugarloaf, the turquoise waters… Soon we are joined by a few others and are enjoying ourselves in the water, when we see A and N coming from the other end of the beach towards us. What they tell us leaves us all shocked. They have been mugged off their cameras - at knife point. Locals on the beach just ignored the whole incident. A little jittery as all of us were carrying cameras, we decide to go back.

Christ, the redeemerLittle later, our city tour takes us along the Guanabara Bay and Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas (lagoon) and through the Rebouças tunnel. This tunnel links the southern and northern parts of the city cut in half by the Tijuca ridge that makes Rio the only city in the world to have a National Park 5 minutes from downtown. From the Cosme Velho district, we take a cogwheel train to go up the Corcovado Mountain to visit Christ, the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) statue. “Corcovado” means hunchback and that is what the granite hill looks like. Its original name is Pinaculo da Tentacao or Pinnacle of Temptation alluding to the Biblical Mountain.

The statue, 130 feet tall with a span from fingertip to fingertip of 28m, arms outstretched, as if it is embracing the city and welcoming all the visitors is magnificent. Covered with a mosaic of soapstone, it is one of Rio's finest Art Nouveau monuments and the largest Art Deco and the 5th largest statue of Jesus in the world.The status was very impressive, no doubt. But like I was explaining to someone, there are some churches /temples/ status which are very touristy while some evoke in us religious sentiments, want us to sit down and just close our eyes. It’s happened to me at many places during my travels. SugarLoaf MountainI particularly remember one small church in the Barcelona old quarter, where a service was going on and I just sat there for close to an hour! This was NOT one of them. It didn’t have to be Jesus. Could have been Pele for all I cared! But that does not take away from it, its magnificence.

The vantage point offers stupendous views of downtown Rio, the bay, Sugarloaf Mountain and Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches. The white of the cliffs, the blue of the sky, the green hills and ever-changing shore is sWOW Samba Schoolo meditative.

We then visit the Samba Stadium where the Rio Festival and the completions between the various schools take place every year. It’s actually supposed to be closed, but they are bringing down the stands from the recently concluded festival so we manage to go in and decide to have our own Samba school!

Catedral Metropolitana Rio’s Catedral Metropolitana sure was an odd shaped building. Infact, it is one of the 50 most extraordinary churches in the world. Conical in form, it didn’t look like a cathedral at all, but more like a Pyramid of Egypt!!! The inside is 12 sided with four rectilinear stained glass windows that are a massive 210 ft tall and soar from floor to ceiling to a cross shaped roof of lights. I distinctly remember that after the scorching sun, the cool interior was really welcome! Now I have read about its green architecture, much ahead of the times when it was built in the 1970’s. Inside of Catedral Metropolitana There are no windows at all - the four huge stained glass windows are there but otherwise there are no open windows. The fresh air comes through openings in the walls that are layered so that rain cannot come in but cool air can. The architect has designed it in such a way that no electricity is needed for cooling the building. Hot air rises and leaves through the top vents and cool air comes in through the open doors and lower vents. Electricity is not needed to light the building either as usually sufficient light Jesus Statuepasses through the stained glass windows, the vents and the large doors.
It was designed by the world renowned Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. According to our guide, there was a competition held to select a design for the new cathedral and this one was chosen because it was cheap to build and also cheap to maintain ( no painting and little external cleaning required) and also cheap to upkeep as very little is needed to cool or light the inside of the building!!! There is a beautiful wooden cross with Jesus hanging from the roof. I just love the place. Some carol singing from a room at the back makes it perfect!

From there we go to an Italian restaurant for Lunch. The food takes ages to come. I am a vegetarian but for this trip I had decided I will be open to trying some non-veg so I decide to have the pomfret. It’s the only non vegetarian meal that I enjoyed. We had a choice of 3 desserts. The papaya dessert sounds very weird but it’s the yummiest. We are lucky. All the confusion from the delay, they mess up our order and get us more of that!!!

We visit the legendary Pão do Açucar better known as Sugar Loaf Mountain because it resembles the early large-lumps of sugar supplied to shops which they would simply slice a lump off when someone came to purchase sugar.

Painted!!Driving around Copacabana and Ipanema beaches we cross the university area where we see several boys with painted bodies. It seems that’s a part of their ragging and inclusion to the tribe! Return to our hotel to get ready for our ‘Pink’ evening. We all are expected to wear pink for dinner at one of the barbecue restaurants. The waiters come with various cuts of meat at the table. Unfortunately I am sitting at a corner and they would come suddenly with these huge chunks of meat. It is here that I decide – I can’t eat non veg. All that meat just got to me and I return to being a vegetarian!

After dinner we go for a Rio by Night Plataforma Show - Sambaa samba show. 7 feet tall ladies dressed in samba attire come around to get photographs clicked. They tower over even the tallest of us and are nearly double the size of the some of the shortest in our group. The show begins where the "mulatas" exhibit the intricate steps of local dances and "batuqueiros" produce a delirium beat from exotic percussion instruments. After the show, we leave cracking chocolate jelly / mousse jokes amongst us all the way back to the hotel.

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