“Pegar o ladrão! Pegar o ladrão!” yelled a slightly overweight man. Slapping his shoes on the hot sidewalk, his hands were in the air and his belly was jumping with excitement as he ran after a barefoot boy on a bike. The boy, who looked back with a cautious eye, continued to weave in and out of the yellow taxi cars. Other streetwalkers stopped in confusion, suddenly changed their paths, first jogging, then running, towards the barefoot biker. The boy suddenly jumped off the bike and disappeared into the sea of cars. I looked at Caio in confusion and fear and soon realized what had happened. Someone had been robbed of his bike and backpack in plain daylight. This – friends – is Rio de Janeiro.
By now, it’s no secret that I’m married to a Brazilian. I’ve been to Sao Paulo four times - two times for Christmas, once while I was living in London and most recently, for a friend’s wedding. Of all the times I’ve swam in blue beaches of Guaruja and Ubatuba, eaten platters of fresh fish, jumped the 7 waves for 7 wishes during New Years and bathed in a waterfall, I had never visited Rio de Janeiro. This past visit to Brazil, Caio and I spent four days in the favela-stricken tourist spot and every moment was stunning, to say the least.
After a five-hour flight delay (I’m told this is pretty normal, as Rio is continuously unpredictably cloudy) Day 1 was full of all the tourist things that we could fit in the 10-hour daylight. First, we fueled up over a “light” breakfast at the Forte de Copacabana. I emphasize light because it wasn’t - there were two and three of everything in the kitchen.
The Forte de Copacabana is a military base. The first revolt of the tenentista movement, a political philosophy of junior army officers or “tenentes” who contributed significantly to the Brazilian Revolution of 1930, took place here. The area is now a public park and museum, a place where both tourists and locals frequent. This is one of many places I find fascinating. It’s a place where Brazil’s very own military turned against the government due to the very thing that continues to haunt the country today – a rigged election. Today, it serves as one of the best spots for breakfast and charges a 10 real entry fee.
Its popularity as a prime breakfast spot isn’t surprising. The light hits the water just the right way to turn it emerald, the trees provide the perfect amount of shade and the breeze from the water is gentle enough to create an ideal spot to have a coffee, drink or just a visit with friends.
After breakfast, we went to Pão de Açúcar, what I kept calling “sweet bread” but came to find out it’s actually called Sugarloaf Mountain. I can see why. Sitting at 1,299 feet above the harbor, its shape resembles a loaf of granulated sugar (this is a 19th century terminology, I had to Google it.) Sugarloaf Mountain, unlike Forte de Copacabana, is not known for anything other than its breath-taking views, which you can see all the way up on the cable cars or, for the more daring, by rock climbing the side of the mountain.
While the view from above was spectacular, I found the colorful graffiti painted on the gates of houses on the way up the mountain just as interesting. In many cases, I feel as though I had seen this artwork before at Modern Art Museum in Paris, only I know that this artwork was done by locals, perhaps in the middle of the night, perhaps in broad day light.
Next on the list during Day 1 was Christor Redentor or Christ the Redeemer. This tourist spot was captivating. In fact, Christ the Redeemer should be the Eighth Wonder of the World.
The way the Christ is seated at the top of the mountain, they way the clouds move around the statue – you feel as though the Christ is floating around you. From the beach, the Christ actually is floating around you, day and night. This is a little creepy. Nonetheless, the Christ in all its heavenly glory was a sight to behold.
Here is where I digress.
I believe that life is filled with special moments and if we take enough time to sit back and acknowledge them, they’re simply unforgettable. What happened next after our day of sightseeing was one of those moments for me. Perhaps it was because I really needed a moment to take it all in. After all, when one works 10-hour days, it’s tough to wind down and simply “be” on vacation. But perhaps it was a supernatural moment that I can only describe as my unforgettable memory. Of course, this moment included food, beer and beautiful scenery, but it also included a moment where I realized how much a truly loved being, working and doing life with my husband and these moments where we’re talking and laugh together are the moments that really matter. The rest just fall by the wayside.
The next day was just as amazing as the first. We ran down Ipanema beach towards Leblon, had a salad at a nearby café, sunbathed on Leblon beach and went out for amazing seafood tapas. We were true Cariocas.
The beach walk, patterned in black and white tiles, cracked from age, dirtied from dust and sand, tells stories of victory, defeat, corruption and revolt. While the taxis will hit you, the barefoot boys will rob you and the Christ will haunt you, there is a crazy calmness in the air. One that, if you sit back and take it all in, creates a valuable jewel I like to call a timeless memory.