Our ship approached Rio just before dawn. We were lucky to be able to watch the city go from pre-dawn gray-blue to the rising sun’s golden reflections. The sky was clear; as the sun rose and the air warmed, clouds and mist crowded the dramatic peaks.
We had always heard that Rio, spreading among rocky promontories, the ocean and lagoons, is a beautiful city. It’s true! Our vantage, from the leisurely cruise-ship pace, gently evolved as the day brightened. Urban Rio squeezes between many hills, so our view kept changing: white and then golden lines of buildings weaving among the dark green mountains. We had seen many lovely and interesting landscapes and riverscapes during our cruise. Rio caught our breath with its gorgeousness.
Throughout our cruise in the Atlantic, seabirds, mostly boobies, often flew along side the ship. The pressure from the ship’s progress through the water startled flying fish, which lept away, perpendicular to our course. The boobies would coast on the winds, and suddenly dive like rockets into the water. They can see fish in the ocean from high in the sky. They transform from flying birds to hungry torpedoes beneath the waves. Entering Rio’s waters, we saw new varieties of these birds. They skimmed in flocks across the surface of the harbor and bay, now oblivious to us and our ship.
Our cruise-provided “Best of Rio” tour was really just access to Rio’s two most famous peaks, and a Brazilian BBQ lunch.
First stop was the cable car up to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain.
At the top observation level, we were about 400 meters above the harbor. Very fortunately, while hot (like 95F / 35C degrees!), the day was bright and clear. Rio is immense; it spreads from the rocky coast landscape far inland. The population of greater Rio is over six million people.
We could see the curves of Copacabana and Ipanema beaches.
We could see the Christ the Redeemer statue atop Corcovado mountain in the near distance.
For lunch, the tour bus deposited us at a Fogo de Chão restaurant in the Botafogo neighborhood. Dedicated carnivores, we have always loved the Brazilian BBQ style meal: healthy salad bar to start (which we mostly ignore) followed by an endless parade of waiters offering grilled and roasted meats, carved next to you at the table. We were a busload of cruise tourists; we weren’t sure what quality we would find. We needn’t have worried. The spread of healthy appetizers made us want to come back just to eat them. But we are experienced carnivores, so we knew to eat only a tomato wedge and a green bean, and wait for the carnivale of meats. No disappointment: hot savory delicious beef, pork and chicken filled our plates. We watched our less-experienced fellow cruisers select too many pre-meat goodies, and then suffer from the overabundance of grilled meats. Eating this well takes practice.
The destination of the afternoon was up another mountain, to the Christ the Redeemer statue and lookout. This time, transportation was a funicular train. At a leisurely pace, it climbed through the Tijuca Forest National Park. The forest is lush, tropical, and compared to the city below, nicely quiet. The train ride didn’t provide many views of the city, which made emerging into the sunlight beneath the statue that much more dramatic.
Constructed between 1922 and 1931, the statue is 30 metres (98 ft) high, excluding its 8-metre (26 ft) pedestal. The arms stretch 28 metres (92 ft) wide. (Thanks, Wikipedia)
Not surprisingly, the crowds at the base of the statue are thick: lots of selfie sticks, and people expecting to have a photo of themselves and Christ and no one else.
We did our best while enjoying more grand vistas of Rio.