Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Day in Rio de Janeiro: Sugarloaf and the Escadaria Selarón

On our first full day in Rio, we first visited one of the iconic sights of Rio de Janeiro, the statue of Cristo Redentor atop Corcovado peak in the Tijuca Forest National Park .  We liked the idea of hiking up the mountain, but Lance, our host, warned that tourists had consistently been robbed at gunpoint while trying this hike, even when walking in large groups.  We recommended that we register for the tram to the top, but the registration process was impossible to negotiate – he said the system was consistently down.  He recommended that we simply show up at the tram entrance to see whether there has been any cancellations – if not, we would easily find a van to the top.  He also noted that, given our ages, we should be able to take advantage of a special line for seniors and perhaps even a special price.

We took a cab to the upward-bound tram station; seeing no indication that any seats were available,. we found an agent who steered us to a small bus which, in turn, took us to the ticket counter where we bought a round-trip van ticket up the mountain.  The van took us to the National Park entrance where we would buy tickets for a bus to the top.  There was one very long line to buy tickets, and another to board the bus,            

but just as Lance had suggested, the seniors line was much better – in fact, we were able to get to the front of the ticket line with no waiting at all, taking Sam and Nafisa with us


We were told that the senior discount was only for Brazilians, but the preferential lines for both ticketing and the van ride saved us easily 90 minutes to two hours.

After a fairly short ride to the top, we arrived at the huge Art Deco statue

which we admired along with some sweeping views of Rio de Janeiro below us

There was a crush of people trying to get to the outermost point of the area surrounding Christ Redeemer, with the closest possible view of Sugarloaf – San and Nafisa plunged into it but we decided that the extra few feet closer was not worth the hassle of trying to get there.  In light of my pickpocketing experience in Salvador maybe I should also have been focused on that disadvantage of being in such a tight crowd....

Several young Argentines worked their way into the crush and then started bouncing up and down, singing and celebrating their team’s highly anticipated game against the Netherlands upcoming a couple of days later

On the van ride to the top, we had noticed occasional pedestrians on the road; we decided we could stand to stretch our legs by walking down (not quite as much exercise as walking to the top would have been.  We enjoyed the views back toward the top, and down over the city through foliage.

We saw a few clumps of people just after starting our descent, then no pedestrians at all as we wandered down.  But there was a bus going by upward or downward every minute or so, and we never felt it was deserted enough that we could have had a robbery problem.  Too bad we didn’t walk up!

We took a cab back to Casa Cool Beans, checked in on Joe who didn’t feel a whole lot better than he had in the morning; after a lunch at Nega Tereza, we decided to try visiting the one of the unusual sights of Santa Teresa: the Escadaria Selarón – a staircase heavily decorated with ceramic tiles, created as a tribute to his adopted city by a Chilean artist.

Both the walls

and the steps themselves were decorated

Toward the top, each of the steps seemed to be decorated fairly uniformly, as above, but as we continued down we saw many different designs on the steps, with tiled bearing various messages

Near the bottom the walls were jammed with larger messages in tile:  this one was about living in favelas (after three weeks in Brazil, I was able make it out in Portuguese but there was an English-language version just to the right, aimed at tourists I suppose)

including this artist’s explanation of the project.  The Portuguese here was harder to follow, so I suppose I should have been grateful for the English-version tile mural nearby.

There was a big crowd at the very bottom

and this mural was on the wall across from the bottom of the steps

The whole thing seemed fantastic, although we heard from the guide of our favela tour a couple of days later that the scene is not so spectacular as it once was because work is slowly being destroyed by neighbors unhappy because it brings such crowds of tourists to their area

On the walk back to our hotel through Santa Teresa, we passed a public school where students were getting released at about 5 PM.  On a nearby wall we found this stand-alone tile containing what seems to be the Brazilian Constitution's version of the First Amendment

We had dinner that evening at a Portuguese restaurant in the Lapa area called Nova Capela.  The menu was continental more than Brazilian; two memorable entrees were a steak with Madeira sauce and a lamb dish with broccoli and rice.  We had chosen this restaurant because it was across the street from the evening’s main destination, the samba club  Carioca da Gema

When we arrived before 9, it was standing room only on the main floor, where a solo guitarist was performing, but there was plenty of standing room and we were able to lean on the bar.  The samba band began setting up, and the joint became more and more packed.  Finally, one of the tables near us emptied out, and we were ale to grab seats.  As the music began, a large man with a very deep voice stepped forward as the lead singer.  I would not describe the music as melodic, but there was a huge beat; a woman about my age, seated at a nearby table, was standing up and swaying while she softly sang along, so I am assuming that the band was playing samba standards.

Nancy and I had tried to take an online samba lesson before heading out to dinner, but with the music playing it was hard to follow the steps.  Still, the crowd was dancing hard, and it was fun to join in for a while.

When we left the club at about 11:45, there was a huge entry line stretching down the street.  We heard from another tourist the next day that the line was still there at 1:30 AM, when she passed by.

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