Reveling in the Real Rio
The next day is bright and sunny again, finally, so we head out to cross a few more things off our Rio list, as the time for my mom to leave is quickly approaching. We take the metro to Largo Do Machado, and make our way to the water. Although Flamengo is not a beach where people swim, due to pollution, it has great views of Sugarloaf and the city. We walk towards Botafogo in the heat, seeking shade as usual, and take in the views. It’s hard to believe that this gorgeous beach to my left is a part of the city. The 4 lanes of back to back traffic on my right seem like such a contradiction to the lazy atmosphere of the beach where people lounge in lawn chairs and kick footballs around. I watch fit men work out at one of many exercise stations along the waterfront, and I marvel at their energy. In this heat, I find it hard just to walk, and here they are giving it their all, dripping with the same amount of sweat I produce just from standing there.
When we get closer to Botafogo, we stop for a cold beer on a path next to the water. It’s just a little stand selling $2 Brahmas, but they come with a lawn chair. We sit and watch what looks like a children’s sailing lesson; small, individual sailboats are flapping around in the wind, and every few minutes it looks like one is actually going to tip right over. I sit there and think how lucky I am that I have all this time in Rio to just take it in - not rush around to all the main sights, but time to just be - in Rio. I take a one minute video of the ocean, sugarloaf and the sailboats. I figure I can watch it when I’m home, and pretend I’m right here where I am right now.
Our next destination is Pista Claudio Coutinho - a place that a friend who grew up in Rio told me about. It’s so non-touristy that our taxi driver doesn’t even know it and has to ask for directions. Pista Claudio Coutinho is basically a trail that meanders around the bottom of sugarloaf mountain. It starts at Praia Vermelha, a small beach just off Sugarloaf which is packed.
We start up the trail and are immediately immersed in the cooler air of the Atlantic Rainforest that is miraculously part of the city. I see a dangerous snake warning and find it hard to believe that wildlife like this lurks within the city. Rio is so diverse, it’s one of the things I love about it. Along our walk, to our right,we see the ocean crashing up against the rocks that make up the famous landmark. The white water crashing against the dark gray rocks is mesmerizing. On our left, the forest climbs Sugarloaf, completely making you forget that you are in the city. We see a woman rock climbing just off shore, up a huge, sheer cliffside. I feel dizzy just watching her.
The shade of the nearly perpendicular Sugarloaf, the breeze from the ocean and the wind make this hike both refreshing and energizing. There are lots of people here - but not too many that it’s crowded. There is also a military presence, so it’s very safe. . I see one young guy skateboarding in a speedo, lots of families and some couples. It’s the perfect place for a walk in the city, but also escaping the city. On the way back, my mom notices a marmoset. A tiny monkey, the marmoset sits on a fence post and stares at us. It’s so small - not much bigger than a North American squirrel - but much cuter. It jumps to the next post, its movements quick and fluid. It stares at us again before running off into the bush. We see one more, high up in a tree, but thankfully, no snakes.
Our final plan for the day is Mureta da Urca - the wall of Urca, a popular place for locals to have a cold beer and watch the sun set. Urca is the area that Sugarloaf sits in, and we rush around to the other side and take our place on the wall. It’s packed - it is Friday night, but I imagine it's this busy every night. The view is perfection. We are looking over the bay, Sugarloaf behind us, and in front, Christ the Redeemer, backlit by the setting sun. It gives me chills, even though I’m covered in sweat from the walk and the heat of the day. Everyone is rushing to get their photo taken while the light is still fabulous, and I help some girls next to me with a group photo. They offer us their Brazilian flag sarong for our photos and they turn out perfectly.
I spend every second trying to capture the magnificence of this sunset. The water, filled with boats makes an incredible foreground with the sun turning the water yellowish. Behind the water, there are just enough low buildings to remind you that you are in the city. Beyond that, the rolling mountains that Christ stands on complete the background in an extraordinary manner. A helicopter hovers near the statue, and I am envious of the view they must be having. There are just enough clouds to catch the light of the sun and draw your eyes towards Rio's most famous icon.
The atmosphere on the wall is one of both relaxation and thrill - enjoying an icy cold beer while watching the sun set over this spectacular view makes me grateful for every second I get to spend getting to know this city - the real Rio.