I had promised my readers that I would not provide them with a tourist’s view of Brazil. That would exclude Rio de Janeiro. But as I looked at pictures I have of Rio, something rose up within and declared that I was not telling the whole story. And a partial story can be a lie. So I will plop you down in a few of the marvelous sights in Rio, though the time line for that experience was before some of my readers were born.
Rio is famous as a city kissed by the sun. Its gorgeous wide beaches take the shape of scallops and made dramatic with the punctuation of mountains. The best known is Copacabana, then perhaps Ipanema that is highlighted in the samba lyrics, “The girl from Ipanema.” Those beaches go on and on and on. At one time Rio was an important port for the shipment of gold, gemstones and coffee to the old world. The port, on which much of Rio sits, is named the Bay of Guanabara and it is said to be large enough to anchor all the warships of the world.
I will pick you up by taxi at your hotel that is a block or so away from the beach but just as nice as others right on the Atlantic. Those on the beach are about double the price. We leave the beach area and head towards the center of the city but part way there veer to the right, pass the Red Beach and arrive in the neighbourhood of Urca; it is bordered on three sides by water. There we will visit the Sugarloaf Mountain, a 1,300 metre piece of granite guarding the mouth of the Baia de Guanabara. The cable car takes us part way up to the mountain known as the Morro da Urca. There we take another car to Sugarloaf Mountain. The panoramic view of beaches, city, mountains, Guanabara Bay and the ocean takes a person’s breath away
There is a small park on the top of Sugarloaf with palm trees, a few monkeys and different birds. Now look South toward Copacabana and you will see beaches, one following the other until they fade into the distance. Then look a bit to the right. There you will see the spine of mountains that divides the city on the beaches from the city on Guanabara Bay. On one of the high peaks is situated the famous statue of Christ the redeemer. If you wait a bit you may see helicopters lifting up and circling O Cristo Redentor carrying tourist for a fantastic view of the statue and the city.
Turn now towards the city so that your back is to the ocean and there before you once again are the bays scalloped along Guanabara Bay with white sand but now also with the roads built on the sand dredged from the Bay. Those multi-lane highways provide a link from the beaches to the business centre of the city. There to the right is the Santos Dumont airport jutting out into the water. We watch and are amazed at an old two-engine prop plane taking off. It was old even back in the fifties and no doubt is DC-3 or a Curtis Commander leaving the runway at the edge of the water to fly over the bay. It is strange to see a plane pass way below us as it heads out over the ocean. That route lets it avoid having to lift quickly over the surrounding mountains. Our family was once on one of those planes and that opens up a story I will share over coffee with you…sometime.
You will not tire of gazing over this city that is so different than any other in the world. Just look a little more North and you will see the city of Niteroi on the other side of the bay. The way to get there used to be by ferry boat though now there is a bridge across. Niteroi has always been considered the poor cousin of Rio.
There are a couple of dozen beaches of note in the Rio area but I want to tell you about the one our family used to visit. We lived in the suburb of Meier and worked there at planting a church. When we wished to visit a beach we travelled up over the spine of mountains and then descended to the beach called the Barra de Tijuca. That beach is 18 kilometres long and we considered it Rio’s best. At that time it would be practically deserted so Doris and I with Monica and Vernon would have huge sections of white sand all to ourselves. We often spent a day at the beach and our children loved it. So what better place to spend a Christmas day than at this lovely place of sand, ocean and fantasy? We did that in 1962. Doris prepared lunch and we spread a blanket on the sand for our dinner table.
The Barra ended at the North end in rock jutting out into the Atlantic. But just this side there was a fresh water stream flowing out into the salt water. I discovered that oyster grew in the brackish water on those rocks and that provided me with an idea. I swam across the little river with each of the children on my back, one at a time. With a tire iron, we pried the oysters from the rocks, cracked them open and ate them. Nothing fresher. Doris was happy to watch from the other side and if any of us wanted more fresh oysters they were for sale along the road away from the beach. They were offered to us with a section of lemon.
All that is changed now. Hundreds of new churches now minister in Rio, many reaching up the hillsides to the poor in those terrible slums. About the beach we used to visit, hotels now line the water’s edge and extend blocks away towards the mountains. I suppose the waves may still be stronger, the wind more brisk and the waters cooler than the other Rio beaches. I pause and see that beach for a moment as I write. Our family is there once more; our children are playing in the surf or building castles in the sand. But this I know–neither our family nor Rio will ever return to what once it was. Still the city of Rio will always be what it has been–the most beautiful city in the world.