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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rio de Janeiro – Day 01: Highlights in One Day

Practically, we only had two whole days spare to enjoy the city. And the best way to optimize it is to get one of those open-top bus tours which, unfortunately, Rio doesn’t have (or we just didn’t put much effort to research). We got a suggestion from Line (and Jun who both declared that Rio is their favorite city in the world) about this guided private tour with Marcio Guedes ( I contacted him and set for a day tour (eight hours to be exact). The rate (USD 250 or PHP 10,900, no deposit needed) for a car that is good for five people. It’s a bit expensive but we figured later that it’s a good deal given the language barrier and the logistics of the spots that we intended to see.

(From left to right: train ticket for Corcovado, a menu checklist from Rio Scenarium and cable car ticket to Sugar Loaf Mountain)

Marcio was already in front of the hostel at 7:30am. We came from a nearby bank (since we don’t have enough BRL’s yet), bought our breakfast from a store in the corner for take-out and off we started the day. We settled the fee beforehand but that is our choice, not Marcio’s. Our first stop, the Corcovado (where Cristo Redentor stands) has its first train ride at 8:30am so we strolled first along the Copacabana neighborhood. He gave us a brief geography class about the city, like where Copacabana is and what’s on the other side of the tunnel, etc. We reached the train station at around 8:10am and killed the extra 20 minutes having our breakfast while Marcio was arranging for our train tickets. The thing with having a tourism center-approved guide is that he can walk past the queue. He happens to hold an ID as well and this means he’s free to enter any of the sites anytime.

Optionally, Cristo Redentor can be reached by your own car and just pay up for the van that would bring you from the parking area to the top. This doesn’t have a schedule like the train and it’s an advantage to see the top with fewer tourists around. It’s just that Trem do Corcovado (BRL 36 or PHP 833 each return ticket), being older than the statue itself by close to half a century, is another experience (comparable, perhaps, to the tram that sends you up to Victoria Peak in Hongkong). It goes through the Tijuca forest, just like the van, and is open to Cariocas (the locals) as a means of transportation for those who live in the upper part of the forest. I saw one lady on our way down but that’s about it. Marcio said that it’s different during weekdays when kids are returning home from school. There’s a part of the funicular railway ride where a breathtaking view of the city just pops up out of the bushy nowhere. Marcio was quick enough to give us heads up about it.

From the train, we ran to the nearest elevator and went straight to the giant statue. A couple of tourists were there already but it wasn’t that crowded. We got a picture taken from the stairs facing Christ. Marcio said it’s the best spot to put the Redeemer in picture. Since we’re close to it, that’s the only time I noticed that Cristo Redentor is made of mosaic, making me realize that it was built more elaborately than I initially thought of. Mosaic, by the way, can be seen in most pavements near the beach in Rio. It’s probably a city signature. More Corcovado pictures here and a video here.

For our next stop, Marcio suggested that we visit the Sugar Loaf Mountain during the late morning (as opposed to the initial plan that it will be done in the afternoon). Before we left the train station, I asked the guys if we could make a quick visit at the nearby shop (across the mini-park) so that I can buy the staple postcards and stamps (which, surprisingly, have different rates per region of destination).

At 10am, we were already at the ground station of the cable car (BRL 53 or PHP 1,226) that would bring us to the peak of Sugar Loaf Mountain. There are two stops. First is the Morro da Urca which is a lower boulder mountain. There’s a restaurant there and some shops (I saw some Havaianas on display). Early generation cable cars are also displayed there. Another cable car route connects Morro da Urca and the peak of Sugar Loaf Mountain. Rio de Janeiro is best viewed from the peak as you can see the different beaches like Ipanema and Leblon plus the rest of the Guanabara Bay. This is the reason why the train to Corcovado was built first in 1884, far earlier than the statue of Christ. Cariocas would love to go at the top to enjoy the view. I hope Wayna Picchu can be conquered this easily. Right before we descended, Marcio let us try this soft and chewy, glutton-free cheese balls fresh from the snack bar. It’s really good. More pictures of Sugar Loaf Mountain here plus videos here and here.

For lunch, we headed to Centro, particularly in Travessa do Comércio near Praça XV. We entered through Arco do Telles and strolled along a short alley where Carmen Miranda once lived in one of the houses. We got an eat-all-you-can feijoada at a restaurant called The Line. There are a lot of alfresco choices there but we’re all eyeing for that Brazilian national dish. There was a 3-man band playing some choro music (according to Marcio) along the alley, something that best complements our hearty lunch.

(Top row: Monastery of St. Benedict; Bottom row: Metropolitan Cathedral of St. Sebastian)

Full and sleepy, we finished our last few hours with a visit to two misleadingly charming Catholic churches, namely Mosteiro de São Bento (or Monastery of St. Benedict) and the Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião (or Metropolitan Cathedral of St. Sebastian). Both are simple (well, it’s debatable for Catedral Metropolitana) from the outside but very much intricate and elaborate once you enter it. The first church boasts of overly decorated interiors while the second one amazes us with the huge stained glass artwork. More pictures here and here.

Our very last stop with Marcio was the Escadaria Selarón (pictures here) in Sta. Teresa (the book calls it Ladeira de Sta. Teresa or Ladeira do Selarón). It’s a series of multi-colored steps made by (and named after) a Chilean artist. The whole stretch is made vivid by the cemented tiles from all over the world. A small tile from the Philippines, bearing the republic seal, seats at the left side of the stairs. It’s not easy to find. It’s good that Marcio’s around and he just approached the artist’s assistant to help us locate our entry. If you’ve seen The Amazing Race 18, the Rio de Janeiro leg on the episode prior to the season finale, teams were asked to locate for their clue card there.

The rest of Centro pictures here.

As much as we didn’t want to end the tour, we had no choice but to be back at the hostel. That was around 4pm. Our last spot from our checklist for the day will resume at 8pm so we had time to do our own thing. Daryl and Jacq had to check their emails, Mike slept at the room while I prepared the postcards in the dining area after finishing a glass of papaya – passion fruit mix from the mini-snack place in the corner. This is also the time where our roommates were all sober and the bed assignment was settled. I charged my camera battery and just left the thing plugged in the dining area.

Clocked at exactly 8pm, we were already at the entrance of Rio Scenarium (pictures here) in Lapa (Rua do Lavaradio). We took a taxi going there for around BRL 25 or PHP 584). Marcio advised us to visit the place instead of the pre-planned trip (from 10pm to 4am) to different schools practicing for the Carnaval next year. I would say that it was a good call. The resto-bar is pretty much similar to Aca Bar in Buenos Aires in terms of the decoration (old items mounted on the wall, etc.) less the paintings and the board games. There was a band playing some Brazilian music and I remember them playing Mais Que Nada. I’ve heard different musical styles for the day but I still can’t differentiate one from the other just by listening to the drumbeat. By 10pm, as advised, the place was already full house either by people who were dining or gyrating in the dance floor. We had some steak and a local beer called Bohemia (which, according to Daryl is like San Mig Light). Before we left at 11pm past, we visited the other floors (there are two more) and took pictures of the area. From Rio Scenarium, we walked to the area near Arcos da Lapa where the roads are closed for people to mingle, chill and have some beer. We didn’t stay long and we headed back to the hostel. Videos here and here.

(From left to right: Interior of Rio Scenarium, party goers dancing to Brazilian music and Arcos da Lapa)

At close to midnight, we were scavenging for a good coffee shop in the hostel area. We walked heading to the beach but we couldn’t find something Starbucks-ish. We ended up preparing our own coffee at the hostel kitchen which is not a bad idea. I got my camera battery charger back and finished stamping my postcards while having a cup of “homemade” coffee.

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