The Heart of the Carioca

Saturday – November 22, 2008 –

It doesn’t matter if the weather is bad in Rio de Janeiro. There is always something entertaining to do in this vibrant city.

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate this morning for the hang gliding. We were scheduled to hang glide from 1,700 foot Pedra Bonita for a 20-minute flight to Sao Conrado “Pepino” beach. However, Paolo called us to let us know this morning that the winds weren’t favorable today.

Jeff and I decided to walk down to the beach. Wow, it was now turning out to be a beautiful day. We watched some young men and women playing a game of futevolei – a sort of beach volleyball played with the feet like soccer. You had to be both in incredible shape and have coordination to play this game.

Fio dental

Fio dental

We also couldn’t ignore the customary beach attire of the sunbathers and visitors to the beach that Luis explained to us earlier. The common misconception is that Brazilian women don’t wear clothing or go topless, but that is not allowed. Instead, the goal is to wear as little as possible. We saw some women wearing what they call fio dental, or dental floss. It’s basically a bikini that is nothing more than a g-string … wow, that wouldn’t fly in the U.S. It also seemed that even the more modest bikinis barely covered the rear end, which is something that Luis explained that Brazilians obsess over. He also told us that Rio is the plastic surgery capital of the world attracting people from all over for surgeries. Most of the men seemed to be wearing Speedos instead of board shorts. We noticed that people of all different body types were not afraid to show their bodies. Brazil definitely has different standards of modesty!

Then we were hungry for lunch. We decided to visit the well-known Casa da Feijoada for Saturday brunch. The restaurant in Ipanema is famous for its feijoada. The dish, a bean stew, is considered a staple of Rio de Janeiro. We also tried another famous dish, arroz con tacacau, which is a stew of rice, shrimp and maniop flower. The food was amazing and this place was hopping with a lot of Cariocas, citizens of Rio.

Feijoada and arroz con tacacau

Feijoada and arroz con tacacau

Then we took the Metro Na Superficie bus to the Siqueira Campos metro station. There we took the metro to the Carioca station. We walked past the Largo da Carioca, a famous public square in the historical center of Rio de Janeiro. We saw a number of folk artists, musicians and street vendors plying their arts.

Nearby we walked to the Santa Teresa tram station. We wanted to visit Santa Teresa, a bohemian neighborhood located on the Santa Teresa hill. The neighborhood is famous for its winding, narrow streets and artistic community. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was an upper class borough with many surviving mansions today.


Santa Teresa trem

We boarded the famous Santa Teresa trem, the last line of Rio’s great trams that once connected the city. The line connects the Lapa neighborhood and city centre with the inner-city neighborhood of Santa Teresa. The tram has been designated a national historic monument and has run since 1877, making it one of the oldest street railway lines in the world. It is the oldest electric railway in Latin America.

Upon beginning the journey, the tram gingerly rose from downtown to approach Santa Teresa hill. We passed over the 148-foot-high Carioca Aqueduct, also called the Arcos da Lapa for the Lapa neighborhood it rises over below. The aqueduct dates to the 18th century and once brought fresh water from the Carioca river to the city.

Santa Teresa is no longer the wealthy neighborhood that it used to be in the early 20th century. It is located next to one of the favelas, Francisco de Campo, so crime can be a problem and it’s important to stay aware of your surroundings. Favelas are un-planned shantytowns that dot the forested hills of Rio de Janeiro and are ruled by drug lords. We hung off the tram in the traditional style a few times. The experience reminded me of a tropical San Francisco tram ride, but through an old colonial neighborhood. When we arrived at the end of the Morro Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers Hill), we checked out a few of the art studios and galleries. It was a pretty area with great views of the rest of the city. Then we boarded the next train back to Largo da Carioca.

Then we took the metro to Cardeal Arco Verde station, where we boarded a bus to the foot of Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain). We bought tickets for the teleferic cable car (Teleferic Caminho Aéreo) for R$ 44. We ascended 1,300 feet to the summit of Sugar Loaf mountain, the second-most visited attraction in Rio after Corcovado. The mountain resembles a sugar loaf as it rises up from a peninsula on Guanabara Bay. After we reached the top of Urca Hill at around 650 feet, we walked a short distance across a long wooden bridge before boarding a second cable car as it started to sprinkle outside. Shortly afterwards, we had reached the summit.


Rio de Janeiro from Päo de Açúcar

It was a pity that the sun was not out, but the clouds added some dramatic depth to the sky. We were intoxicated by the 360-degree view of Rio and could see all of Botafogo, Copacabana Beaches, Ipanema, they bay islands and downtown Rio de Janeiro. We stayed to sunset and admired Cristo Redentor and Corcovado lit up off in the distance.

Upon taking the teleferic back down, we took the bus back to the Cardeal Arco Verde metro station. Then we traveled back on the metro and metro bus to Posto 9 in Ipanema. We needed go to bed fairly early tonight because we have an early flight in the morning, so we decided to hit up McDonalds nearby.

After dinner, we admired the view outside our balcony room overlooking Ipanema one more time. We understood why the heart of the Carioca lives and dies in Ipanema. And we hadn’t even met the Garota da Ipanema!

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