Friday, June 4, 2010

Friday Travel Journal: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Part Four

The weather got much better finally, so we took advantage of it. Since Christ the Redeemer was closed due to dangerous flooding conditions and wasn't scheduled to re-open for at least another three weeks, we decided to try for Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain), the second most iconic image of Rio. We awoke to a sunny day, scarfed down our breakfast before the rain could set in again, and hurried down the steep series of stone steps from the lovely old neighborhood of Santa Teresa where we were staying to the fruit market at the bottom of the hill where we would catch our bus. The fruit market was just too tempting though and we ended up spending at least an hour wandering through the stalls of amazing looking (and tasting!) fruit, most of which I'd never heard of. Even something as well-known as the cashew nut looked different here, since (who knew?) the nut doesn't grow in the wild in neatly packed supermarket plastic bags, but on top of the Caju fruit!

 Caju fruit with cashew nuts attached (photo by Luis Bastardo)

When we finished tasting every possible type of fruit and vegetable available, we hopped on the bus to Sugarloaf Mountain, only getting caught in the rain once...our luck was definitely changing! We were traveling in low season and when we arrived at Sugarloaf Mountain there were very few people in line for the glass cable car (the bondinho) that would take us first to the top of Morro de Açúcar, the shorter of the two mountain peaks, then to the summit, Pão de Açúcar. We met a nice Colombian couple and a wonderful and funny family from New Jersey and spent some time with them, exploring the different areas of the mountains. And of course, we had to stop at the high-altitude cocktail bar at the summit to order our now daily Caipirinhas, the iconic and might I say, delicious (unofficial) national drink, to which we had become addicted. Nothing beats the experience of sitting at a table on the top of Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, icy, limey Caipirinha in hand, enjoying the incredible views of white sand beaches, sailboats and lush green mountains, while the Brazilian song "Bahia" plays in the background...muito bom!

     View of Rio from Sugarloaf Mountain (photo by Luis Bastardo)

The next day, Luis got it into his head that he wanted to see the famous Rio football (soccer) stadium,  Estádio do Maracanã. I couldn't understand why he was so adamant because a) it's not in his nature and b) he has shown almost no interest in football as long as I've known him. Venezuelans tend to be baseball fans, the only South American country that is not completely football-mad. He does follow sports though (he's a man after all), whereas I, on the other hand, am what you would kindly call athletically-challenged and therefore have little to no interest in sports, professional or otherwise. Grumbling, looking forward to potentially the most boring day of my life, I trudged behind him, hoping the stadium would be closed for any number of reasons: plague, locusts, scurvy outbreak, but no such luck.

Luis in heaven at Estádio do Maracanã (photo by Simone Cannon)

We arrived at a gigantic stadium, much bigger than I thought it would be, and as luck would have it, there was a ceremony scheduled about an hour after we arrived to honor two legendary Brazilian football players, Djalma Santos (who played for the Brazilian national team in four World Cups, winning two and was named by Pele in 2004 as one of the top 125 greatest living footballers) and Dano Jose Dos Santos also known as Dada Maravilha (the third top scorer in the history of Brazilian football, outscored only by Pele and Romario). Djalma is now 81 and Dada is 67, but both are still in great shape. The ceremony consisted of both men placing their hands and feet in cement a la Grauman's Chinese Theater, but for sports, then greeting the crowd, surprisingly full of young fans, taking photos and conducting interviews with journalists. It was a wonderful heart-warming tribute and even I, confirmed anti-sports fan, found it moving. We even managed to get both of their autographs. It turned out that Luis had the right idea all the time.

Djalma Santos and Dada Maravilha showing off their newly-minted cement footprints (photo by Luis Bastardo)


Sugarloaf Mountain:
Santa Teresa:

Estádio do Maracanã:

Djalma Santos:

Dano Jose Dos Santos (Dada Maravilha):

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