Rio de Janeiro…say it out loud.
Saying or hearing the name elicits an onslaught of meaning paired with sensual images of dancers with fast hips and tanned peoples on the beach in barely there swim suits. The name alone sounds like a song and she turned out to be a true city’s city. She’s got it down, from the fine dining, one of kind libations, fancy dressers and a landscape for everyone’s liking. The streets jut upward with piles of apartment living and are lined with pastry shops, cafes and a never ending stream of taxis. The city transitions into beaches dotted with colorful umbrellas and then into the ocean with its myriad of coastal coned islands breaking the horizon.
We (including Matt’s hermana) had planned the Rio portion of our trip only two weeks out. With so little research time we thought we would pick a hotel on a beach with a little fame. So Copacabana beach it was, with its own song which now reminds me of an unfortunate video of Tom Brady dancing during Carnival. Our hotel, the Mirasol Copacabana Hotel, was everything we needed despite a vintage smell and a view of a terrace under construction.
The first part of our date with Rio consisted of walking and dancing along the Copacabana Promenade. We stopped at the beach side café’s for caipirinha’s and marveled at highly skilled soccer-esque volley ball games. We took in the street music as it passed by and danced along hypnotically. This time of year sent a low tide of tourists and yet a festive spirit seemed to fill the space and intensify with every cheers, “Tim, tim!”
We were about a week into our trip to Brazil and had consumed very little alcohol (with the exception of the wedding). After quenching our thirst with multiple choice drinks and filling up on Vitamin D our late afternoon lunch was quite blurred and was the cause for my absence on the evening trip to Sugarloaf Mountain. The scenery of the mountain itself is a telltale beauty mark of the city and so thankfully pictures say a thousand words…
Following the trip to Sugarloaf, we gussied up and headed out to the Leblon neighborhood for our first fine dining experience in Brazil. We landed at our chosen restaurant, Zuka and waited a well worth it hour, with drinks in hand, in order to have a seriously gorgeous meal. Zuka happened to be a generally European restaurant, but was reviewed highly locally. I’m tempted to go into detail about our food but I won’t, because for some reason it feels icky to do so. Though, since we are in an age of taking pictures of our food…
After dinner we asked the hostess where to go to see some live music, figuring the answer would be, “just walk down the street.” Thinking samba was still culturally relevant we were somewhat surprised by the blasé reaction when we explained our disinterest in a club or DJ. We eventually got directed to Lapa, which reminded us of one of the many streets in the New Orleans French Quarter, though Lapa pre-dates the Quarter.
I’m guessing it was just a matter of the travel season and in fact Brazil does have a lot of music and movement but when we arrived, businesses where closing and only a few people lingered on the cobbled streets. Perhaps we, like many tourists, had heard tales, had expectations of an everlasting Carnival, and couldn’t let Brazil just do its thing because we wouldn’t believe it, if you know what I mean. I think its natural to go to a destination looking for something specific when really you haven’t a clue what it’s really about. But that’s why you go.
Rio has a personality and a life that is hard to describe, like most places in the world. You hear about a destination, watch a documentary, read a travel guide and allow your limited knowledge to guide you fully. Maybe I’m describing it too whimsically, but it’s important to let it introduce itself, without preconceptions or demands. So since we didn’t find music we picked an empty table in the street, ordered a large beer at last call and watched the Rio night wind down. In the end, Lapa was enchanting and suited us well. We too were sleepy and needed rest for another day of exploring and getting acquainted to this vast and diverse city.
The next day we hit up the Cristo (Christ the Redeemer), which involved a city bus ride and a rather inverted tram with stunning views that make you want to yell out for them to “stop, slow down!!” Although crowds sometimes remind me of flies on a piece of buttered bread, one can’t pass up the chance to see one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World?”
It was remarkable, all of it; the ride up, people laying on the ground, even more yielding their unruly selfie sticks but mostly the statue. He stands striking against the sky, which on our visit was blue all the way. Jesus seems nearly too big for the peak he stands on. I’m sure you can Google it and figure out the details, but I just like to wonder how the heck he got up there. He was surely the king of the hill, right!
We returned home to pack up Laura, had an amazing lunch and headed our separate ways. Laura went to the airport and we two remainders headed to the Flamengo neighborhood for a new hotel, beach and scenery. This was a still moment in the trip, when everything had been a group activity and then the group became a pair. The dynamic had worked; brother and sister, girlfriend and boyfriend and then me just loving the heck out of Laura and she better say the same too. So we had a “what now” moment, a change in momentum, a stutter step that still had us going in the right direction.