Sunday, February 12, 2012

Rio bucket list

Most people who know Rio recommend the following bucket list:
  1. Chillaxin' on the beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon
  2. A trip to Christ the Redeemer statue
  3. The cable car ride to, and views from, Sugarloaf Mountain
  4. A favela tour
Other items, like the Ipanema 'hippie market', visiting Lapa to admire the Santa Teresa aquaduct, and a walk along the shores of the saltwater lagoon which lies at the foot of the mountains behind Ipanema. Oh, and grilled cheese on Ipanema beach.

I'm afraid I didn't do very well.

I tried, really I did. On Friday, I escaped the office early just as the clouds that had hung about all day started to clear. I resolved to go to the Christ the Redeemer statue forthwith. It was 5pm, and all I had to do was drop my FedEx package off at the concierge. So I had plenty of time for the 30 minute cab ride to the station - to catch the last train to the statue, at 6pm.

Dropping the FedEx package required 2 forms, 4 phone calls, and literally took twenty five minutes. But as I hopped into a cab at 5.30pm, I was confident I would still have time to make that last train.

By 5.50pm I had been sitting in traffic, stationery for 15 minutes, watching clouds gather again and rain start to spit. I decided to skip it. The good news is that I'd spent most of my cab ride alongside that lagoon I'd been recommended to visit, so at least I could cross that off my list.
My trip to Christ the Redemer. He's up there on that hill, and this is as close as I got.
Instead of visiting that legendary landmark, I wandered along Ipanema's beach and had a nice early dinner at a lovely restaurant The Euro recommended.

On Saturday I decided it was too cloudy to bother with going up tall places for views. I also decided against the favela tour, having read that the only way to do it without being exploitative is to do a proper one, where the tour company contributes significantly to community projects. But the proper ones take a whole day, and I only have two of those days to burn. Plus I read a few reviews saying things like 'it's fascinating to see how theses slums have working electricity and running water' and decided that just wasn't fascinating enough. I've seen City of God, will that do? I'm making my contribution by relentlessly overtipping anyone who looks like they might live in a favela.

Instead of visiting statues and slums, I slept till 11am, went for a run, and took a cab up to Santa Teresa. Santa Teresa is a sweet, old, hillside neighbourhood where I ate shrimp pasties. I walked down to Lapa, which I had imagined was the Kentish Town of Rio: secretly hip, full of interesting, old, independent shops and places to eat. In fact it was just quite dirty. Still, I bought some cheap fruit and strode towards 'Centro' (downtown) to check out this cool 1970s cathedral:

Twenty minutes of circling this monster, down deserted, graffiti-covered streets, and I gave up. I hopped into the first cab back to Copacabana. There was still plenty of time left in the day for some lying in the (patchy) sunshine.

On Sunday I decided to cut out the middle man: all that 'trying to see stuff' bit. I headed straight for the beach. I took a long walk along Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon beaches. I wandered into Ipanema and vaguely 'looked' for that hippie market, but when it didn't appear on the couple of blocks I tried, I quickly headed back to the beach.
My Rio sightseeing highlight

All of this is a long winded way of saying that I have been a very bad and lazy tourist. I have ticked Item #1 off that bucket list several times over, and that is all. It's been very nice though. My only regret? I wish I'd managed to find that grilled cheese seller on Ipanema beach.

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