Having spoken with others, it seems like we were just the victims of bad timing for our visit to the Corcovado and there certainly weren’t the crowds today as we took the cable cars up Rio’s most famous mountain. I’m happy that Sugarloaf mountain was so much better organised and had so many less people than Cristo Redentor, or I might have left Rio with the wrong impression. Instead, we were treated to a gorgeous blue sky day, a beautiful view of Rio’s harbour and baby monkeys fighting in trees.
The first car took us up to Morro de Açúcar – Sugar Hill, a still reasonably sized peak that is nevertheless in its big brother’s shadow, often literally. (Surely given its shape and relative size, a better name would be Sugar Roll, or Sugar Bap?) This first stop had a large, open plaza that afforded great views of Rio’s harbour and planes taking off from the airport. As well as a cafe and benches to sit at, we also found a somewhat incongruous shoe store. Surprisingly, Havianas are just as expensive here as they are in Australia. They did have some great glow in the dark designs, though I’m not sure how the sunlight is supposed to activate them when your feet are covering them. Regardless, one had skeletons so I was nearly sold, but $30 seemed a bit steep to replace a $2 fake pair from Thailand that didn’t need replacing. I suppose I may yet regret this. Day-glo skeletons are cool.
Around the seaward side of Morro de Açúcar stands the second cable car station that takes you to its big brother, Pão de Açúcar – Sugar Loaf. Naturally, this had a smaller plaza that afforded even greater views of Rio’s harbour and planes taking off from the airport. Aside from those spectacular views, which immediately made the photos from the junior sweet bread seem pointless, there was one special feature. Behind the obligatory souvenir shops were steps leading down into a small forest, which turned out to be the home of a cohort of monkeys. We were content to watch them play and fight from afar. Not so a group of American girls who we happened across, who coaxed the timid simians out with the promise of biscuits. A couple of locals reminded them of the incredibly explicit notices not to feed the wild animals and they stopped, but not before they had a few shots of one of the girls planking on the path, with a monkey eating biscuits off her ass. Stay classy, San Diego!
Later in the week, we also managed to see a football match between Flamengo and Athletico MG. With the Maracana closed for refurbishment for the upcoming World Cup, the match played out at the Olympic Stadium a little way out of town. Brazilian fans are certainly passionate. After a turgid first half, Flamengo, the home team, went behind to a lazy free-kick despite having had the majority of possession. The silence was deafening – or maybe it was the fans going mad at their own players. Luckily, old horse face himself, the gangly, lolloping Ronaldinho, recently returned from Milan, struck a sweet volley 10 minutes later to bring the scores level, and then set up another to put Flamengo ahead. From there they cruised to an easy 4-1 victory, guaranteeing safe passage back to the hostel. I don’t think the home fans would have reacted like Canucks “fans”, but I’m glad I didn’t have to find out.
Speaking of which, I’m in two minds now about whether I actually felt unsafe in Rio. Statistically speaking, I’m sure there are much safer places, but apart from the one time we’d just been told of a mugging, I didn’t really feel close to becoming a statistic. By the end of the week, I wasn’t even really worried about being robbed anymore and had gotten into the habit of just carrying around the money we needed. We had numerous sojourns out to purchase food and now have enough Portuguese to say “A full BBQ chicken and two Coke Zeros please, thank you”. How much more than that do you really need in a civil society? Of course, unless our plans seriously change, that Portuguese is now useless and will be pushed to a dark recess of my mind, along with the chain rule of differentiation and which stairs were squeaky in my childhood home (1st, 3rd and the right hand side of the second last, if you’re interested and/or thinking of breaking into a certain Meols property).
And with that, we’re off to Chile.