Penguin Island, Antarctica 2008

Thursday, March 3, 2011

TUESDAY, MARCH 1 - Rio de Janerio, Brazil Day 1

Up at 5:45AM! Even with sunrise at 5:30AM, this is way too early! Why are we up? Oh, yes. We are sailing into the harbor of Rio de Janeiro and Terry Breen is doing a blow by blow over the old blower (PA system). She is already on the blower when we step out on the balcony and see Copacabana beach in front of us
and Sugar Loaf Mountain off to the starboard.
The street lights are still on along the road in front of the Copacabana Palace Hotel and they begin to wink out as we watch.
The Captain does a complete 360, spinning the ship on its axis so all the balcony watchers can see. We have, by this time, gone up on deck 12 so we have a panoramic view of the action.

We now turn north and slide by under the brow of Sugar Loaf
and turn to port toward the harbor entrance. We see the old defensive fortifications at the mouth of the bay, duck as one airplane after another howls overhead toward a landing at Santo Dumont regional airport, enjoy a view of the light green, fairy-tale castle of Ilha Fiscal, see a substantial part of the Brazilian Navy, including a small aircraft carrier
and finally dock at the cruise passenger terminal.
We have an all day tour today to see "The Best of Rio" and board our bus about 8:45AM after a long walk through the terminal and out to where the buses are parked. By 9AM we are on our way out into the chaotic traffic of a Rio rush hour. The streets are insane and the drivers are worse.
Our first goal is to take the cable cars to the top of Sugar Loaf. While driving there, the guide provides the usual running commentary on what we are seeing. The trip can’t be over 10 miles but it takes most of an hour to get to the base station for the cable cars. The bus can’t park so we bail out and follow the guide into the cable car station. She already has our tickets and, perhaps, a reservation for a particular car time.

Our wait for a car is only a few minutes and we load up and, with a bounce and a jerk, are on our way up the 650 foot climb to the middle station. The ride takes about three minutes and is very smooth. We get out and move on to board the next car for the final 1,000 foot climb to the top of Sugar Loaf.
At the top, we are given 45 minutes to take our pictures and explore the numerous shops. The view, if you have not yet been to the top of Corcovado (the hunchback) to see the Christ statue, is spectacular. It was cloudy and spitting rain earlier in the morning but the sun has come out here on Sugar Loaf and the views along the coast are awesome!
Corcovado, with the Christ statue, is still swathed in clouds but at just the right moment, we see the statue, or most of it, through a brief break in the clouds and take a few photos.
 Hopefully this will not be all we see of it but we have, at least, seen it.
Carolyn, with Dick’s help, spies and buys a 10.55 caret, unmounted, semiprecious stone, a Citrine, to add to her collection. It is really quite pretty! After doing our thing, we meet the guide and begin the return journey down the mountain to board the bus.
It is nearly noon and lunch is next on our agenda. We drive for another hour to an area called Barra to the Oasis Churrascaria for lunch. During this drive we see, spilling up (is that possible?) the hillside, several of the slum/shanty towns for which Rio is infamous.
We drive along the boulevard fronting Copacabana Beach
and Ipamea Beach.
It is sunny now and the people are out on the beaches in force. We are told they are all tourists as the residents are all working!

Oasis is one of the restaurants where various types of grilled meats are brought around and sliced to order. There is a huge salad bar to start and then the meats start coming.
Most are good, some better than others, and we eat our fill. A bottle of water is included and anything else is extra. Here is where they make their money. Cokes and beer are $5 and a glass of wine is $10. Dick has a draft beer and Carolyn a coke. Dick pays with reals, the local currency, and gets off for $8.63 instead of $10.

Back on the bus around 2PM, we now head for the cog-wheel, funicular train station to take the 20 minute ride up to the top of Corcovado Mountain. On the way we pass by the line pf Royal Palms
that are 90 feet tall and were planted in 1808 and some world class graffiti.
We have a reservation for the 2:40PM train and we just make it. We literally run the last 100 yards with the guide urging us on and cut in front of a long line of people waiting to go up. At 2:38PM we are standing on the platform and at 2:40PM the train pulls up and we get on. The two cars are full to capacity and quite cramped.
The ride up is through the Tijuca Nature Preserve and is, like all such trains, quite steep. We stop once to allow the descending train to pass and again to let some obnoxious, local musicians (being generous there) on to serenade us. Too bad this is their day job! At the top, the train is at a 30 degree angle and we get off and walk to the elevators. These are small and only hold six passengers and one elevator operator. He has a very difficult job as there are only two buttons; up and down.

Out of the elevators, we walk to the first of two escalators and after our ride up these we are standing on top of the world. There used to be 296 steps up!  Escalators are good!  Sugar Loaf and its views are an afterthought when you have been to the top of Corcovado Mountain! As mentioned earlier, the mountain was covered in clouds this morning
but it is now clear and what a treat.
It would have been a shame to have come to Rio and not seen these spectacular views.
As usual, we are up here with several hundred of our closest friends but everyone is congenial and allows others to get their photos made.
We actually purchase a pin for Jack, a tiny copy of the statue, at the entrance to the shrine in the base of the statue.

We rejoin our guide at the appointed time and board the next train for our descent.
Back on the street below, the bus is waiting for us and we head for the ship. Our tour has taken 7.5 hours and we have basically seen two sights and had lunch. What does that tell you about Rio’s traffic??!!
Back on the ship, we clean up and go to dinner at 6:30PM as we have another tour tonight that begins at 8:50PM. At that time, we board a bus to take us to a Samba show and folkloric. This turns out to be more fun than the Tango show in Buenos Aires. Perhaps that is a result of the rather scanty dress and amazing costumes of the performers. Talk about buns of steel!
We do not leave the show until shortly after midnight but we are in bed by 1AM. It was a nice
first day in Rio.

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