Friday, August 5, 2016

As the Rio Olympics are about to begin, a look back at my 2007 visit to this amazing city

While I know a lot has changed, I also suspect a lot hasn't!

Rio and The Girl from Ipanema

A painting purchased one evening in Rio
Rio de Janeiro is an hour from Sao Paulo by plane, or 6 hours by bus. As a result of the recent air crash in Sao Paulo, we were told it might be faster and safer to take the bus. When we arrived at the station, we discovered a number of companies all wanting our business. In South America, there are often three classes of buses. We traveled by ‘executive coach’ which was very much like being at the front of an airplane, except for the absence of caring flight attendants and the drink trolley. But it was a very easy and enjoyable trip up the Costa Verde.
On Eliane's advice, we booked into a hotel on Ipanema beach. Fortunately, I met a brave young man wearing a kippa and tzizis in the Sao Paulo bus station who lived in nearby Copacabana. He wanted to serve as our guide once we arrived in Rio, directing us onto another bus through a dirty and scarred favela to the subway, from where we took another bus to Ipanema. When we arrived, I noticed row upon row of bars. But they were not the ones in which you drink. These were designed to keep intruders out. It was disconcerting and sad. That evening, I looked for the girl from Ipanema, but never found her.
The next morning we set off for Copacabana Beach, described by our guidebook as the most famous beach on the planet. We didn't know whether it would be beach weather or not, but it was 25 degrees at 10 in the morning. It was very beautiful, but not as ‘glamorous’ as we expected. While most of the buildings are quite ordinary by our standards, the landmark Copacabana Palace did stand out. We now realize that few cities can match Vancouver's waterfront developments.
After looking around the area, which once back from the beach feels like New York in terms of building density, we went downtown by Metro. Like Sao Paulo, the subway is very clean and feels very safe. At street level, we discovered a varied mix of modern skyscrapers, decaying older buildings, and much in between. Unfortunately, like Sao Paulo, much of it is covered in graffiti.
On the advice of our guidebook, we took a tram up to Santa Teresa, a hilly suburb with leafy, cobbled streets. We didn’t expect too much for 30 cents, but it turned out to be an exciting 25 minute roller coaster ride on an antique tram up to the top. The views along the way were quite spectacular, and although there were many interesting neighbourhoods where we should have got off, we decided to keep going, so we would have time to take a ferry over to Ilha de Paqueta, a car free zone popular with locals.
Unfortunately, we just missed the ferry, and rather than wait an hour, boarded one for Niteroi, across the bay, where we could see Neimeyer's famous Museu de Arte Contemporanea. Unfortunately, it was closed since a new show was being installed, but we did see the outside, which many think is much better than most of the work inside.
That evening, we walked to a nearby restaurant where during dinner we were entertained by three athletic black gymnasts who performed a variety of cartwheels in the street, accompanied by some drumming. After collecting from the patrons, they were off. I think we were all quite generous, in case we met them again walking back to our hotels!
We spent time each day on the beach, by the hotel. Fortunately, we met up with 6 delightful friends traveling together from Pennsylvania, some of whom were originally from Brazil. Together we exchanged travel experiences, tried to negotiate the purchase of prawns, (challenging even if you speak Portuguese), and bought some small paintings.
We decided to stay on another day, but the Ipanema Plaza was fully booked. So we checked into the Sheraton Rio in nearby Leblon, which is unique in that it is a resort right on the beach. (It was also unique in that a large hillside flavela looked directly into our 17th floor windows!)
We had a very decadent time, being served Brazilian barbq by one of the pools, and just lying around. It’s an odd thing, but even after 7 months of travel, I feel guilty just lying on a beach reading! I feel I should be ‘doing something’.
We took the hotel shuttle back to Copacabana that evening, and after a few caipirinha limas, wandered through the market. We came across a very colourful and exuberant painting by a charming young man that seemed to epitomize the spirit of the city. So I bought it, not knowing how I would get it home, but hoping to one day see it framed in our front hall. Back at the hotel, we discovered we had missed the Mexican night.
After 4 days in Rio, it was again time to move on. We didn’t really know where to go. But I had read in our guide book about Parati, a small UNESCO protected 17th century colonial town that had remained fundamentally unaltered since the 18th century. Although it meant a four hour bus ride each way, backtracking towards Sao Paulo, we decided to go.
As for the girl from Ipanema, I never saw her, but she has stayed in my mind. Now she can stay in yours…
Tall and tanned and young and lovely
the girl from Ipanema goes walking
and when she passes
each man she passes
goes Aaah!
When she moves it's like a samba
that swings so cool and sways so gently
that when she passes
each man she passes
goes Aaah!
Oh - but he watches so sadly
How - can he tell her he loves her
He - would just give his heart gladly
But each day when she walks to the sea
She looks straight ahead not at he
Tall and tanned and young and lovely
the girl from Ipanema goes walking
and when she passes
he smiles
but she doesn't see
no she doesn't see
she just doesn't see...

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