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  • Writer's pictureDawnelle Salant

Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro

Updated: May 8, 2020

One morning we decide to be brave and take the subway and a bus. We have no idea how to do either, but luckily as we are waiting in line for the subway, a young girl behind us starts speaking to us in English. She explains that we can charge a subway card and then both of us can use it for the subway and the bus. The card costs 3 reals (roughly $1) and she gives us one that she doesn't use. She then complains about how much a subway ride cost (4 reals - so just over a dollar) and I immediately feel guilty about the privileged life I lead. I thought the ride was super cheap, because I come from a rich country and am blessed with a good job. This girl probably has to go without other things so she can ride the subway and she's kind enough to give us her extra card.

Once we arrive at the correct subway stop, we follow the signs to the bus and things get a little more complicated. I use my limited Portuguese to find the correct bus, but it's packed. In Brazil, if you are over 60, you get preferential treatment - special priority lines at museums, attractions and airports. We learn that both the subway and bus have special seats as well, so my mom gets a seat but I have to stand squashed in between strangers. It doesn't bother me that much - I lived in London and took the tube all the time, but you always hear how dangerous Rio is. But nothing happens and as the crowd thins out I finally get a seat as well. Our destination is the Botanical Gardens and when we find them, I feel like I'm plunged into another world - one that doesn't exist inside the city limits of Rio.

There are lush green plants, trees and gorgeous blooming flowers everywhere. It is a tranquil escape from the city, right within the city. If you walk close to the edges of the park, you can hear the traffic, but in the centre of the gardens, there is nothing but peace and quiet. As we walk through the rose garden, I just happen to glance up and I am rewarded with a view of my favourite thing in Rio - Christ the Redeemer. This statue has some sort of hold on me - and I am always surprised when I see it. I am usually pretty good at directions and knowing where things are, but the statue always pops up where I wouldn't expect it to be. The forest that we are in forms the base of the giant promontory of rock that he sits on; the green gives way unexpectedly to a sharp slope of rock that reaches straight up.

We spend hours wandering through the gardens, taking in the orchids, the lily pond the cactus garden and the famous water fountain that has a view of Christ in the background. Rio really is a marvellous city. We stroll down an avenue of Royal Palms that reach nearly 100 feet high. There is no shortage of beauty here. I hear a squawk and see a flash of colour up in a treetop. Hardly daring to breath, I pull out my camera and get closer. I've heard that it's possible to see toucans here, but I didn't think it would be this easy. And yet, there in the treetops are several colourful toucans, chattering away. I snap a few photos, but it's dark in the shade of the trees, so I have to be content with just watching them. And once I've spotted those ones, we see them everywhere. It's hard to believe wildlife thrives so close to the busy city streets. Just one more thing to love about Rio.

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