Cidade Maravilhosa

So I’ve just got back from two weeks in Portugal and now have thousands of photos to sort and a whole notebook full of notes to make well as a couple of book reviews to complete.
I want to add a writing section to the blog so while I wade through all of the above, I thought I’d kick off with an exercise I did out of a guide to Travel Writing, about one of my favourite cities, Rio de Janeiro.

A writing exercise for travel writing (1).

If I say sun, sea and samba, there is only one country you will be thinking of.  But that is a vast, diverse country, with countless alluring destinations.   So to focus you I’ll throw out Copacabana, Sugarloaf and Ipanema.  We are in the Cidade Maravilhosa itself, Rio de Janeiro.
The third largest metropolitan area in South America, the former capital of Brazil is the most visited city in the Southern hemisphere.

It’s list of attractions is as long as it’s hot summer days, Sugarloaf Mountain, Cristo Redentor on Corcovado (Hunchback), the Maracana, once the worlds highest capacity football stadium, the botanical garden, the legendary carnival and thats not even mentioning the famous beaches, themselves easy enough to spend two weeks on, as I did the first time I was there.

To make the most of Rio though you should submerge yourself in it.  Take the buses, they are for the most part frequent, cheap and easy enough to use.  They all show their route and fixed price on the side.  Get on, pay the conductor, through the turnstile and pick your seat, and try not to look forward.  All the drivers seem to be infused with the spirit of the late, great, Ayrton Senna.
The chances are you will be staying in, and confining yourself to Zona Sul.  Despite the fact it’s much bigger, and home of most of the samba schools that form part of the carnival, the Zona Norte is less glamorous than it’s southern sister.  Maybe it’s the thousand or so favelas that deter visitors, but the only time you are likely to venture this way is to visit the Maracana, the tour is worthwhile, particularly if you are a football fan and I would recommend seeing a game, especially if Flamengo are playing, as they are the biggest supported team in Brazil, or more importantly if the mighty Botafogo are playing..

Back in Zona Sul you are surrounded by beautiful people in a beautiful location.  The beaches are hives of industry in their own right.  All you need is beach-wear (preferably as small as possible for men and women) and some money.  Once on the beach you can hire chairs and an umbrella, order and buy drinks and watch the hordes of people streaming past.  They will be selling sarongs, t-shirts, massages, grilled cheese, tattoos, drinks (Cerveza! Cerveza! Cerveza!), sun tan lotion, jewellery, prawns and will be advertising themselves by shouting.  A peaceful sunbathe it is not.
You can escape by taking  a swim, although beware the current as it can be strong, and at times the water can be freezing.  Despite my utter lack of Portguese I had a conversation with a fellow swimmer that involved a lot of gesticulating, probably swearing and the word frio!.  Along the back of the beach grab a beer at one of the beachside bars or tuck into a Churro, a hollow doughnut filled with chocolate or dulce de leite (Caramel to you and me) or both.  These can be slightly addictive.

In the evenings I’ve found Ipanema more lively than Copacabana, but that maybe because I didn’t know where to look.  I’ve had great nights in Melt in Leblon and caught a great funk band in Posto 9, likewise Lapa is great fun for a night out, and if you get there early, or don’t mind queueing, go to Scenarium, one of Rio’s great samba clubs.  Through a friend of a friend we went out with some Brazilians and despite my dismal attempts at samba, I was made an honourary Brazilian for the night.  At the end of the night however comes the only stain on Brazil’s otherwise spotless canvas.  The policy for most of the clbs in Rio, and Brazil, is to give you a card when you go in, on which all your drinks are marked.  Then at the end of the night you queue up and pay on exit.  Not only does this take ages, but you have no idea how much you have spent.  But i’s a minor gripe.  The next day I will be grabbing a Coxhina or two on my way to the beach, as I enjoy another day in the Marvellous City.