Of all the cities around the world that I have visited, two cities stand out for their scenic beauty, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and Cape Town in South Africa. There is a similarity in the topography of these two cities with both having a beautiful sea front and the mountains rising almost from the beaches!
With the pandemic and restrictions on movements we can now only reminisce about our travels to new lands in the past. Nearly nine years ago we visited Sao Paulo, Brazil. Sao Paulo turned out to be a slightly boring city except for the food and variety of restaurants. It was turning into a ‘sight-taste-seeing’ trip. Our Brazilian friends suggested we spend a few days in Rio de Janeiro, fondly called Rio! And how glad are we. So it was an unplanned sudden trip and what a trip!
The city of Rio revolves around the massive statue of ‘Christ the Redeemer’ built between 1922 and 1931. It sits on the peak of the mountain Corcovado. Christ with is outstretched arms, embracing the world, can be seen from all ends of the city, night and day. It is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, of which Taj Mahal in India is one. I found a resemblance of Rio with the city of Cape Town in South Africa, which wraps itself around the Table Mountain. Table Mountain in Cape Town is just as fascinating as Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado Mountain. In fact the Table Mountain dawns an air of mystery with a cloud cover over it most of the day!
As Indians we were amazed that this ‘Saviour’ statue of Christ was not worshiped and was not a place of pilgrimage for the people! In India this would have turned into a place of worship with people flocking to it. It would have developed into a commercial hub with all the activities and goods required around a religious place. People came here for the spectacular view that the Corcovada mountain provided of the city and the sea surrounding it. In true Indian style we did a ‘parikrama’, circumambulation, around the base of the statue of Christ the Redeemer. We discovered a little Chapel inside the base, the pedestal of the statue. The chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Aparecida, ‘Nosa Senhora Aparecida’, was consecrated on the 75th anniversary of the Statue in 2006. No one was interested in the little chapel and hardly anyone was there when we very peacefully paid a visit and expressed our gratitude for making this trip happen. It appeared the Brazilians were a more rational lot!
Another impressive sight was the Sugarloaf Mountain set in the sea, a peak standing at the entrance to the Guanabara Bay. A two-stage cable cart ride got us to the summit and the view was even more spectacular as it was on the coast, while Corcovada was in the North and inner side of the city. One got a good view of Christ the Redeemer, the city of Rio and all the beaches along the coast Copacabana, Prainha and Flamingo.
We spent one day on a couple of beaches, the most famous Copacabana and the less famous Ipenema beach. A most impressive set of activities were going on, girls in g-strings, even old ladies in g-strings hoards of people sun tanning, surf boards and canoes riding the waves. By afternoon the entire stretch of Copacabana was a sea of red umbrellas and red chairs with people in various stages of ‘undress’ stretched out under the 32 degree Celsius sunshine. Obviously, working up a tan was serious business!!
The Sugarloaf mountain and the Two Brothers mountains were clearly visible from the beaches.
Informal sector business was also thriving. Besides chairs and umbrellas, there were people selling g-strings, juice, coconut water, sarong, cane and bamboo beach bags, necklaces and earrings. We felt extremely comfortable in the hustle bustle of this crowd. All kinds of sporting activities were in full swing. Besides surfing and canoeing, people were playing volleyball and kicking the football in the hot sand at 32 degrees! Wow, football is also serious business in Brazil.
A highlight of our trip was a visit to the Maracana Stadium which was under renovation when we visited in 2011. It was being renovated to host the FIFA 2014 World Cup. We were lucky that the they were allowing tours into the stadium. There was an interesting museum which housed various artifacts, trophies, and most interestingly, footprints and fingerprints of the famous football players of Brazil. I tried to measure the size of my hand with that of Felix Mielli Venerando, popularly known as Felix, and my foot with that of Edson Arnato do Nascimento, popularly known as Pele!
Another similarity between the cities of Cape Town and Rio were the Biological Gardens, Kirsten Bosch in the former and Jardin Botanical Gardens in Rio. Both these gardens nestled along the slope of the mountains and boasted of many rear varieties of plants. We enjoyed the Gardens, particularly the thick clusters of bamboo groves, lotus leaves in the ponds nearly 3 feet in diameter and a variety of fruit trees.
The bonanza of the Jardin Botanical Gardens was the ever present view of Christ the Redeemer in the background. My camera was not powerful enough to get a very clear picture, but still it was a phenomenal feeling being watched over by the ‘Saviour’.
All in all it was a remarkable trip in the picturesque city of Rio. A surprise visit and all thanks to our Brazilian friends for egging us on and making all arrangements for our wonderful trip to Rio!