The High Down on Rio

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Ipanema Beach

When one thinks of Rio, the first thing that might come to mind is the iconic and welcoming art deco statue of Christ the Redeemer a top Corcovado mountain. Or maybe you think of beautiful stretches of exotic beaches on the open Atlantic.  If you had asked me what I knew of Rio before I came, I would have said beaches, the Christ statue and music.  Now that I am here I realize that Rio has much more to offer and in my view, and view is key here, it can’t be fully appreciated until you visit.  But….

 

Samba Night at Club Bip Bip

Samba night at Club Bip Bip

Brazilian music is not just any music.  It is THE music in my book.  Bossa nova, samba, chorinho and all those great musicians from Luiz Gonzaga, Chico Buarque and Jobim to Elise Regina,Gail Costa, and Gilberto Gil and the list could go on.  Even turning on the radio and listening to Brazilian pop music is a pleasure.  It sounds uniquely Brasilian and catchy and NOTHING like that  sanitized auto-tuned corporate crap you hear on most commercial stations in the States. And then there is live music.  If I did nothing here but go to the beach in the day and catch live music at night, I’d be happy. We have already checked out Samba night at a tiny storefront club called Bip Bip that opens up to a sidewalk on a obscure street in Copacabana where the locals sit around a table (Roda de Samba) and jam as patrons take beers from the refrigerator inside the club, pay the owner who is seated at a small table outside the club, and then gather peacefully on the sidewalk, to watch/listen, dance (a little) in place and sing along if the words are known, as they are to all the Brazilians in the crowd.  The scene is all protocol driven. The owner does not like the musicians to be disrespected in any way.  At the gathering on the night I attended in which German tourists and younger hip-type Brazilians represented the majority, the owner (Fernandinho) stopped the music and lectured us in a hoarse, barely audible voice in Portuguese explaining that the club existed solely to preserve and maintain Brasil’s rich musical culture and that it was not a place to socialize or party- which meant no talking, laughing or clapping after the music either, but we were allowed to snap our fingers to show appreciation.  It wasn’t clear whether we were allowed to take photos, but I did and even took a little video too as did my daughter.

Fernandinho gave us a suspicious look and I was afraid he was going to stop the musicians and call us out and say “no music for you” and banish us from the club, so we bought some beers to appease him.  Wednesday is bossa nova night and we plan to go back.

But the point I am trying to make is that Rio is MORE than music, beaches and a stylish Christ.  Rio is a place of hills, rocks and mountains that give it that characteristic exotic and ancient look as if it were located on Pluto or someplace. Now the terms hills (morros), mountains and rocks are used interchangeably in descriptions of Rio de Janeiro. Around the beach areas, the smaller ones are called morros in Portuguese, as far as I can tell.  The larger, more touristy rocks would qualify as mountains in my book,  although geologist may beg to differ.  Sometimes the rocks, hills, mounds, morros or whatever they are are just referred to by their names, for example – Corcovado (where Christ welcomes), and Sugarloaf (Pao de Azucar) the one that has a face and a bunch of cable cars running to the top.

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Sugarloaf

You see, to REALLY see Rio, you have to get high (and quite a number of people are already that judging by the pungent odor on nearly ever street corner) and most of the larger “mountains” offer a supreme view.  Unfortunately, my acrophobia prevents me from summiting them all, but I did climb to the top of Morro de Leme (a smaller but formidable hill) and managed to make it up the third highest rock (from the sun) called Pedra Bonita inside Tijuca National Park.  I hiked the trail to the summit with my oldest daughter.  The hike is just that – a hike –  and unlike what the tourist guides say, it is not an easy, leisurely stroll.

The Trail

The Trail (not as easy as it looks, trust me)

If you look it up on Trip Adviser, folks say the thing is an easy trail for the family.  But don’t believe what you read.  The reviewers must be fitness freaks and triathletes, who think all people run 5ks before breakfast everyday.  I do not.  I don’t run at all and on most days of my somewhat sedentary life, I’ll manage 5,000 steps if I’m lucky.  I am by no means a slouch and am reasonably fit and can on a good day walk 10 miles, as I have done repeatedly on this trip.  Believe me, this trail is not for beginners.  It was rocky, steep, and slippery, with nothing to hold onto except some sketch vines, bamboo poles and a few thick low hanging tree branches that lovers had initialized.  The red clay surface was wet and muddy in spots and treacherous roots presented extreme obstacles to footing, something I lost several times.  And if the grueling trail alone wasn’t troublesome enough, and it was, there were mosquitoes darting about that bit with bloody abandon and perhaps injected us with a little dengue fever.  I may be exaggerating with the dengue fever, but who knows and it does sound dramatic.  Fortunately, I was not eaten alive thanks to my B vitamin regimen – mosquitoes don’t much like B6 and find B12 repulsive, I’m told anyway.  I suffered only 4 minor bites, but my wife, daughter and our Brasilian friend and host were mercilessly attacked by the parasitic marauders.  I did miraculously make it to the top but not without a great deal of effort.  To keep me going, I fantasized that I was about to be one of the few to summit Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen. When we did finally summit, I got so dizzy and paralyzed by fear that I had to crawl around as dozens of people around us were already taking in the view, frolicking about, taking selfies left and right, some even getting right to the edge and pretending to jump or fall off the mountain. My daughter recorded my pitiful crawling performance but I won’t be sharing that, or any of the pictures of me precariously standing with a look of absolute dread on my face.  I did manage to snap some nice shots of the mountains and Rio far below.

From the summit of Pedra Bonita

From the summit of Pedra Bonita

Rio is a city of remarkable beauty but to really see it, you’ve got to get high.

 

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