City of God, Rio de Janeiro.

10 Mar

There are many reasons why one might nickname Rio de Janeiro, the City of God. The most obvious being the looming stone statue of Cristo Redentor, perched atop the 710m high peak known as Corcovado (Hunchback), viewable from practically anywhere in the city. I quote from my Lonely Planet bible, “voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World”.  I took a long glance at this glowing figure upon arrival in Rio, hoping I hadn’t brought any bad karma with me, when our bags were unceremoniously dropped by our taxi driver at the bottom of a dark street in Botafogo, resident drunks haunting the corner, and told our hostel was on the other side of a very unforgiving-looking iron fence. When we finally managed to poke our way through, we climbed the 159 steep steps to our tree-top residence, Rio Nature Hostel.

The glow of El Cristo and the city lights were even more apparent from this height…

Awakening not to the sound of nature, but to the sound of guitar-twanging from the hippie deciding to practice his tunes at 7am, we decide to spend the afternoon on Pao de Açucar (literally meaning bread of sugar, hence the English translation, ‘Sugar Loaf Mountain’). We ride the cable car up Rio’s iconic 396m mountain, paying through the nose for our touristic venture, and are promptly knocked over by the fabulous views.

Rio, without doubt, occupies one of the most spectacular settings of any metropolis in the world. Home to a population of more than 6 million people, Rio is flanked by green mountains, white-sand beaches and verdant rainforests fronting deep blue sea. At sunset, it is beautiful (if you can block out the gobby English lass whose popped back one too many champers).

Here, I watch the airplanes nearly scrape the side of the mountain on approach to Santos Dumont airport in Rio city. I’m reminded of the fear that crept in last night, at 10.30pm, when I was awoken from my snooze with our plane banking hard right then sharply left – city lights appearing far too close. I was nervous – planes usually coast in straight, right? – until at the last moment, we tipped upright, and the danger seemed averted. From Pao de Açucar, one is impressed with the efforts pilots make to negotiate the many large granite sentinels that dot the city; a landing almost definitely requiring more skills than others. Turning my attention back to the view, the clouds clear a little to give a view of El Cristo …

After another fitful evening in the hostel, with the desire to break a commandment or two with a number of selfish hostel guests, we negotiate the crazed Rio bus schedule and try to observe El Statue up close. We missed the infamous cog train so are rounded up with the other tourist cattle in a mini-van, stopping for a few obligatory pics on the way…

Another mini-van and a giant tourist fee later, we’re told to stand in a line for the escalator to the top. I think not. We pound up the never-ending stairs and squeeze our way through the snap-happy, elbow-shoving tourists, busting out all sorts of ridiculous poses. I manage a snap or two without a tourist head/hand/foot in the way…

After a 2 hour trip to get there, 15 minutes later we’re leaving. I’ve decided Cristo is much better observed from a distance.

The Jardin Botanico is a welcome relief from the earlier hustle and bustle. Home to more than 5000 varieties of plants, it is quiet and serene, with tumbling waterfalls, shady trees, lily ponds, orchids, even a Japanese garden.

We were, however, slightly perplexed at the ‘Rose garden’ or rather lack of…

With the sun setting, we strolled home along Copacabana beach…

After another night dreaming of burning guitars, we spend the morning watching the cheeky monkeys in the hostel’s trees…

…Before visiting my favourite tourist sight in Rio – Escadaria de Seleron, a lengthy work in progress by an eccentric Chilean artist who since 1990, has been covering some 215 steps with over 2000 tiles from 120 different countries. It was very impressive.

However, any chance of relaxing is soon shot down with my anxious note of darkness falling and finding ourselves wandering down an increasingly narrow lane. Let me introduce you to the ugly side of Rio. Travel very long in South America and horror stories will abound you of the potential trouble you can find in Rio – one must understand that opportunistic, petty theft is a given, armed robberies in darkened corners are often, and the lesser known, but still scarily existent, are of bandit hold-ups where tourist buses have tires blown out and its occupants are searched and stripped (undies and all) of their belongings. These stories are not one-offs, they are numerous. The difficulty with Rio as a tourist, is you never know where you can put your feet next. All suburbs are ‘mostly safe’, as in you can walk on street A, B and C but a wrong turn up seemingly pleasant street Z and you could find yourself in a favela and therefore with an empty bank account (if you’re lucky). Inevitably this means it’s difficult to get off the beaten path to explore anything different, and with it being on all tourist “must see” lists, you quickly find yourself hanging out with all the other Australians, with your camera in your bra and your money in your jocks, praying it’s not your turn to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not sure about you, but I don’t find this the most relaxing way to travel.

So my feelings for Rio are mixed. I found it very expensive, incredibly transient in nature, and so laden with tourists that its true culture seemed more than a scratch beneath the surface. It is a diamond, a real rarity. But like true royalty though, while its astounding beauty and intrinsic mystery is enchanting, its difficult to ever know and most are merely able to flank the sidelines looking longingly in. I suppose it is ultimately one city you will need to visit to make up your own mind!

x kel

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One Response to “City of God, Rio de Janeiro.”

  1. Craig April 4, 2012 at 9:56 pm #

    WOW! that garden looks truly amazing!!

    You got to see the statue. Cracker photo you have there.

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