Thursday, July 3, 2008

First Night and Day

I had to put the price of the cab behind me and remember what I was getting into. This was one of the coolest cities on earth, so I relaxed and enjoyed the ride. After seeing the city at night and then in the sunshine the next day, it occurred to me that Rio de Janeiro is one place during the day and another in the dark.

As you're cruising down the highway, peering out the window, looking for landmarks of the "Cidade Maravilhosa," you realize that, above all it's hype, it's a big city, much like any other city. With the window down, that smell soon hit me. Many have smelled this before. It's the aroma that would strike you in several other places, like Mexico City or Beijing, not that I've been to Beijing. I'm just guessing.

The slums also caught my eye. Rio's famous for these "favelas." In fact, the movie The Incredible Hulk opens in one of these neighborhoods. Francisco, one of my supervisors here at IPC, told me not to arrive in the city at night, and if I did, I should stay near the airport. I didn't, and he later told me that I passed the most dangerous area in Latin America.

It's weird when you're cruising through a mysterious place, and you're at the mercy of the cab driver. For all you know, he might be leading you to a dark alley where he and his cronies can rob you. We've all heard of this. However, seeing as his steep fare was a robbery in itself, I figured that wasn't going to happen. We eventually arrived where I'd be staying that night, Bamboo Rio, a nice place I recommend. En route, I never caught a glimpse of the Christ or Sugar Loaf or any of those things Rio's known for. I just saw a big city, which Rio is.

I checked into the place and put my stuff away. As you can imagine, I was tired but still happy to be there. I knew there was a store around the corner, and I needed some toothpaste (of all things), so I asked the fellow working there if it was cool for me to walk around alone at night. He told me yeah, that I looked Brazilian, and as long as I didn't broadcast myself as an unfamiliar outsider (which included not wearing my watch), I'd be okay. I was flattered? I look Brazilian? His other recommendations made sense, but he was the first of a few to tell me I look Brazilian. In my life, nobody has told me I look anything besides American.

I also humbly asked this gentleman for some assistance booking a bus to Brasilia. There was still a leg of my trip that wasn't completed. He said somebody would do that for me when I needed it. I also looked on the wall to see advertisements for a couple tours, which looked fun. It was the night of the seventeenth at this point, and I needed to be at work the morning of the twentieth, with a long bus ride I had to take in between. I slept on it.

I woke the next day and asked a different guy working at the desk if he could book a bus for me. He told me I'd have a place on one that was leaving at 8:30 that night, giving me time to spend the day in town. A tour all over the city was leaving at 9:00, and I decided to pay up and go. The tour bus soon arrived, and I grabbed some breakfast and went off.

After picking up passengers at some others places, we were taken to Corcovado Mountain, where O Cristo Redentor sits at the top. This marvelous statue is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It makes sense when you see it. It's huge, almost forty meters tall, and beautiful. Corcovado is also about seven hundred meters high, with a spectacular view of the city, in particular, Sugarloaf Mountain and the very nice beaches. This was the Rio I was thinking of. Also, on your way up the mountain, you pass through Tijuca, the world's largest urban forest, containing hundreds of plant and wildlife species.

Anyway, we left the mountain and headed to Maracanã neighborhood, which contains the famous stadium of the same name. Maracanã can hold about 95,000 spectators, about 100,000 less that it was able to hold years ago. Perhaps it's a safety regulation, but it's still the thirteenth largest stadium in the world. We didn't get to actually go in the stadium, but I did see Pelé's footprint. I've also heard it's awesome to go to one of Flamengo's soccer games.

After that, we went to the Samba Museum, a small display of samba regalia, right next to the bleachers where Carnaval festivities take place.

We then had lunch, which was welcomed and very good. Then we headed to another staple of Rio, Pão de Açúcar, or Sugar Loaf Mountain. You've likely seen this in pictures as well. It's a high, smooth mountain rising above the water, with cable cars leading up to it. We got into the cable cars and quickly mounted the first peak (The car goes pretty fast.), Babilônia, saw a ridiculous view, then the second peak, Urca, and saw another ridiculous view. Then we headed down and headed out. That completed the tour, a damn good first day in the country. The bus ride that night was a different story.


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