Touristing in Rio

Fri, 18 Apr 2008 02:21:26 +0000

Rio de Janeiro Index Copping Out

I resolved to make an early start this morning, getting up at seven. Breakfast was middling good: fresh bread rolls with cream cheese or jam, bananas and apples, and juice and coffee. The only problem was that the rolls were doled out by the woman behind the counter, and she seemed disinclined to issue more than one. I nicked a second when her back was turned anyway.

First business of the day was to take a photo of the Atlantic from Copacabana beach. Since it's only a couple of blocks from the hostel, I accomplished that in about ten minutes, and I didn't hang around any longer than that. I'm just not a beach person.

Next was to visit the Christ Redeemer statue that everyone associates Rio de Janeiro with. I stumped up the cash for a taxi for this, since the buses completely defeated me. As you can imagine, the place is utterly touristy. I was herded in with a gaggle of American retirees and a a bunch of Japanese tourists, so it was hardly an immersive Brazilian experience - despite the trio of samba buskers who joined us on the train up. When you get off the train, there are elevators and escalators right up to the statue itself, so you don't even get a feeling of accomplishment for making it.

But I can't deny that the view is absolutely amazing, and Rio looks terrific in the sunshine. The smog is terrible, but it still looks great. I don't think I've ever been anywhere that high and steep before. Definitely worth the trip.

So next on the agenda was a visit to the national historical museum. This time I did take a bus, to "centro". Unfortunately, "centro" is pretty huge in itself. I followed the bus route by GPS, so I got off at pretty much the right place. But I didn't have the address, thinking that it would be stick out pretty obviously. I'd underestimated just how big Rio is. So I ended up paying ten reals to take a taxi a couple of blocks, just to get it over with. But I made it.

The museum is really pretty good. Lots of artefacts from the colonial period, and lots of paintings, giving a good feel of the period. The captions are mostly bilingual, so it did a good job of filling in the gaps in my knowledge. I didn't know that Rio was the capital of the Portuguese empire at one point. It's a complicated story, and I'll have to read up more about it.

Then I again used GPS to track down a metro station to get me back to Copacabana. It's finally proving to be a valuable piece of technology, that, now that I'm in a city that's actually well mapped. The only problem is, when you're lost is precisely when you don't want to be flashing around an expensive technological toy.

My mission in Copacabana was to walk along the beach to Ipamena, there to find a restaurant that serves feijoada, which had been recommended by wikitravel. The beach was, in fact, pretty fascinating in the afternoon. There were people doing elaborate sand sculptures. There was also people playing a kind of volleyball where you only use football moves: head, chest, legs, no arms. They were pretty incredible.

Unfortunately, I didn't ever find this restaurant. I'd forgotten to write down the precise address: I'm always doing that, I have to lift my game. So instead I just browsed bits and pieces from the various corner shops on the way back. Again, GPS saved me from getting hopelessly lost, correcting two catastrophically wrong turns. And again, I was terrified to actually use it, wandering around unfamiliar streets at night. But I made it back.

Compared to the rest of Rio though, Copacabana is a paradise. It's very relaxed, but very up-market. It mostly reminds me of Bondi, in fact. I certainly feel safer here than anywhere else in Rio.

Tomorrow's going to be interesting. I didn't get around to booking my bus ticket out yet: I'm going to try booking the night bus. But I've just realised that this means I've excluded any chance of a shower for the next three days, until I get to Canada. I hope they're tolerant of body odour there.

Rio de Janeiro Index Copping Out