Ipanema at dusk.
Travel Dates 20th-25th April 2010.
Please click on any picture to see the larger version.
I did not do all the usual tourist things in Rio; I used it mainly as a pleasant place to rest and recuperate after the Galapagos. Which was just as well because not all the traditional visits were available at the time.
At the same time that rain in Peru washed out the Machu Picchu rail line, rain in Rio washed out the cog railway line to the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer overlooking the city. Even if I used alternative means to get there the statue was completely covered by scaffolding for renovation.
My travel from Quito was one of the more tiring nights of the trip. I departed at 8:40 pm with a two-hour flight to Lima, followed at 1am by a five-hour flight to Sao Paulo and, after immigration formalities, another flight to Rio arriving at 12:30 pm Rio time (there is a two-hour difference between Quito and Rio). I was ready for bed on arrival.
Unfortunately I was too tired to go to the other traditional lookout on Sugarloaf mountain by the cable car on the first day and the weather was uncooperatively windy or hazy on the other two days.
But that was not a major loss to me. I enjoyed other things. I wandered, mainly on foot, around Copacabana, Ipanema, down-town and over the bay in Niterói looking at the people, the beaches and the shops and getting a feel for the city.
In Copacabana and Ipanema the people, especially their dress, reminded me of Sydney's Manly Corso.
There are few other places in the world (apart from my own hometown) where no-one raises an eyebrow seeing men and women walking past in costumes ranging from high-fashion business suits to scanty swimsuits such as budgie-smugglers (ask an Aussie to translate that) or thongs (not the ones on feet).
The beaches are just as I expected – golden sand, gentle surf and overpopulated – but so are Manly and Bondi so I can't complain about that. I must admit it was hard to get the tune from “Tall and tan and young and lovely” out of my head but I rarely saw any girls who would have qualified for the song. Maybe I'm just getting more difficult to please in my '60s...
I will use Brazilian Reais when I mention prices; approximate equivalents are R$10 = AU$6 = US$5.50.
I tried most of the public transport options in Rio. The underground Metro trains were useful to get from Copacabana to downtown and cost R$2.80 per trip regardless of distance. The only problem with the metro is finding the station – there seems to be little advertising at the entrance apart from a sign showing hours of operation – and the very long distance from the entrances to the actual platforms.
The local buses all seemed to charge R$2.35 regardless of your trip length. The drivers of the two I used were both trained at the Bob Newhart bus driver's academy (play the clip when it loads). On the first bus I got up from my seat and pressed the button to get off at the next stop. Immediately I found I was hurtling up the aisle to the front of the bus as the driver rammed his foot on the brake. I was stopped abruptly when I reached the turnstile. Nobody looked surprised. Actually, I had never seen buses with turnstiles before; I found them in all the buses in Brazil, including Foz do Iguaçu. On the next bus I had learned my lesson and stayed seated after pressing the button. But on that bus I already had white knuckles from gripping the hand-holds while we hurtled down the roads from Ipanema to Copacabana. Who needs the excitement of a cable car or a roller-coaster when you can get the same adrenalin rush for R$2.35 on a Rio bus?
While walking around downtown I came across a ferry terminal. The ferry for Rio's sister city over the bay, Niterói, was just leaving. When in Sydney I enjoy wandering around on the ferries, so I decided to take the trip. I recommend it; the journey is pleasant and Niterói is a little different in style to Rio. There was a street market which appeared to be permanent, lots of restaurants and shops which appeared to be slightly cheaper than Rio, and almost no tourists apart from me. The long bridge in the distance goes to the same place. It was a warm day: 37C translates to 100F.
As a traveller who has fairly strict dietary needs I loved Rio. One of the most common forms of restaurant are a form of buffet or smorgasbord which charge by weight. The quality varies a little, but most are excellent. I could choose exactly what I wanted from a wide range of choices of meats, fish, prawns (shrimp), vegetables in many styles, salads, pastas and desserts. My usual lunch cost between R$8 and R$12 with dinner a few R$ more. Most also had reasonable quality “house red” or vinho vermelho by the glass for about R$5-8.
Beer is available everywhere and is fairly cheap. It took me a while to realise that “chopp” is not a cut of meat but a draught beer, usually R$3-5. A very pleasant way to spend a half-hour sitting by the sand on Copacabana beach.
One of the odd things I noticed in Brazil, both in Rio and Foz do Iguaçu, was the number of specialist dental surgeries. They are big business here; maybe there is something about the local cuisine or genes that leads to a higher demand. This operator includes a mobile service. So does this cop.
On Saturday afternoon I found another street market not far from downtown Rio. The street cuisine looked interesting but I wasn't brave enough to try it.
After browsing through the market for a while I decided to walk to the Largo de Carioca to go for a ride on the Bonde de Santa Teresa. I thought I knew where that was so I started walking, but I was diverted by a park with it's downtown rainforest.
After I left the park I walked on for a while until my feet were getting sore so I hailed a cab. Once the driver and I had worked out where I wanted to go he proceeded to re-trace my steps and took me an equal distance past my starting point in the opposite direction. So much for my excellent sense of direction.
The tram was fun, but I had to wait an hour and a half in the queue to board it. The fare is only R$0.60 but it's capacity is limited which is the reason for the long delay.
The tram goes over a track high above the roads near the start; the local youths seemed to be having a macho competition to see who could be more daring hanging by one hand with one foot on the running board as we passed over that. It was probably more dangerous when we returned to the roads and were passed closely by buses.
I'll close with a few more shots taken from the tram. Despite some hotel problems (see my review of the Astoria Copacabana) I enjoyed Rio. Good food, nice people and a wonderful place to relax.