We took an early morning boat & van transfer from Ilha Grande to Rio. We were excited about this option since we were going to be taken pretty much door to door & wouldn’t have to find our way around Rio from the bus station to the Pousada we had booked in the neighbourhood of Santa Teresa. When we got to Rio we found out that we were being dropped off at the bottom of the hill that the neighbourhood of Santa Teresa was on and our driver told us that we could take a taxi the rest of the way, but that he couldn’t go up the hill. After asking a number of taxi drivers and walking closer to what we thought was the main road up the hill we found a driver that was willing to take us. After all the safety precautions we’d heard about for Rio & the 4 of us walking around with our packs we were getting a little worried about the number of people that were looking at us & starting to wonder what was wrong with Santa Teresa – well as soon as our nice taxi driver asked a few people for directions and started up the hill we found out. The streets in Santa Teresa are all cobblestoned and very bumpy – you could easily wreck your car driving up & down there too many times, which we figured was the reason not too many people wanted to head up there. We eventually arrived safely at our Pousada – Casa MangoMango.
After talking with a Brazilian guy at the Pousada who was a photographer we decided that we should get something to eat locally & then head to the Corcovado to see the statue of Christ the Redeemer and watch the sun set over Rio. So, we set out to look around the street that our Pousada was on & headed further up the hill to find some of the recommended restaurants. We found a nice restaurant with cold drinks & fantastic Brazilian food. Rio was hot & it can be hard to be in big cities where it either isn’t possible or isn’t easy to go swimming. Since we decided against staying near the beach we didn’t have the luxury of cooling off – so cold beer & Gaurana (the local soft drink which tastes a big like red bull – but much better & is made from a cherry only found in Brazil) were going to have to do. When we got back to our Pousada after lunch we found that we had misunderstood the times & the photographer had already left so we ran down the hill to catch a taxi to Corcovado. After 5 minutes of driving and our driver stopping to ask for directions we decided that we weren’t comfortable with the driver we had and got out – who doesn’t know how to get to the Christ statue?? Weird, but we then found ourselves a nice taxi driver that knew exactly where to go. We arrived just after 6:00 which meant that we had missed the 6:00 tram up, so instead of waiting for the 6:30 tram we decided to take one of the many vans that go up the mountain. We reached the top just before 6:30 and it was slightly cheaper than the tram too. On the way up we had to stop and pay a park fee as the Corcovado is within a national park, once that was done we took the van the rest of the way up & luckily the sun hadn’t set.
There were of course tons of tourists around the base of the statue and we were rushing around taking a few pictures before it got too dark. The view of the city from the top was amazing – all light up & looking very peaceful. After about 10minutes at the top it was getting pretty dark & we thought that would be it for our photos until the lights turned on. As soon as they turned the lights on there was a large ‘AHHH’ at once from many of the tourists visiting – one western English speaking tourist walked past us and said "And Christ is born again". Good thing none of the more local tourists could understand her. Brazil is a predominately catholic country and people take their religion very seriously. Many people used to make a pilgrimage to see the statue and walk up the hill before the tram was installed.
After lots of pictures and admiring the statue and the view of the city we headed to the van to get a ride back down. Then came the task of getting a taxi back to Santa Teresa. Since that wasn’t going well we decided to get a taxi to Lapa which was the neighbourhood at the bottom of the hill that Santa Teresa was on. Once there we found the tram which cost only 60cents and went straight past our Pousada so we pretty much got dropped off at our door. This was clearly the way we needed to be getting back. On the tram ride back Joe decided to hang on the side like many of the locals were doing. Only he didn’t realize that he was hanging on the wrong side – all the locals were on the opposite side. After his feet were hitting things a few times & we stalled on a very high up bridge we arrived back safely. Joe & Linds decided to head out for dinner with some people from our Pousada and Dan & I called it a night.
The next day we got picked up at 9:00am to go hand gliding. We drove for about 45mins to the starting point where we filled in some forms, signed our lives away and met our ‘pilots’ as they are called. They told us that it was too overcast to go up at that time so we sat at one of the beach establishments and waited. As soon as it was clear enough we jumped in a small car and drove up the hill. The place we were jumping from was south of Ipanema beach, and much less busy as we were going to be landing on the beach. We arrived at the top to find out that we needed to wait a bit more. There were a number of glides already set up at the top waiting for the sky to clear. Luckily for us one of our pilots was near the front of the line since the first person he had to take couldn’t wait for the sky to clear & had to leave. We decided that since Linds seemed (I think it actually might have been Joe) the most nervous that she should go first, Joe second, then myself & then Dan.
It came time for Linds to put her suit on that would be attached to the glider & she wasn’t nervous at all. She got suited up, had a couple practice runs with her ‘pilot’. Once it was almost her turn they got her suit attached to the glider had her practice hanging in the air, we took a few pictures & then she was off. Unlucky for her it was a while for any of us could go as we need to get our second glider in the line – once the skies cleared and they started sending people there was a steady stream of people just until it was almost Joe’s turn to go – then the skies were a bit too cloudy again & there was more waiting. After Joe finally got to go I had to wait for my pilot (who also took Linds down) to get back up, get in line & then we went. It was AMAZING!! You run for about 3 seconds holding onto your pilot down a small ramp & then you are off. Once you are in the air it is what I can only imagine it would be like to soar like a bird – you are pretty much floating along slowly. There is a camera attached to the glider and the pilot takes lots of pictures of you on your way down. After about 10-15 minutes depending on the winds you come in over the ocean and the beach where one leg is unattached from the glider and then you come in fast over the sand and then land running for a few seconds & it’s done. Linds & Joe were waiting along the boardwalk taking pictures. Good thing that I brought my wallet down in the suit with me so that I could buy some Acai & granola while waiting for Dan! Since Dan was coming down with the same pilot that Joe came down with we knew which glider to look out for & also got some photos of him coming in to land. We were all super pumped & had a great time – nice way to celebrate our 30th Birthdays!!
After gliding we raced back to the Pousada so that Dan & I could grab our bags & we could all head down to Copacabana where our hotel was that we were staying in for the start of our GAP tour. We checked in to the hotel and then headed over to Ipanema to do some shopping before Dan & I had to be back for our pre-tour meeting. First stop was the havaianas store where I managed to find a pair on sale to replace the pair that had broken in Sao Paulo. Linds & Joe stocked up on souvenirs for everyone back home too!!
After a bit of shopping & the pre-tour meeting that Dan & I had at our hotel we grabbed some beers and headed to Copacabana beach to try to catch the sunset. Unfortunately we were too late. We had read in Lonely Planet that it wasn’t a good idea to hang out on the beaches in Rio after dark so we drank our beers quickly. We even saw a lady sunbathing on the beach – while it was dark. She got up to smoke a cigarette & reapply some sunscreen and then lie back down. Things that make you go hmmm. We had also grabbed some popcorn and while walking back to the sidewalk a kid came up to Joe & I and said something in Portuguese which we obviously didn’t understand. We went to walk away and he grabbed the almost empty popcorn bag from joe and then when he realized there were only a few pieces left tossed it on the ground while we booted it to the sidewalk. When we turned around the kid had light the bag on fire with a couple of friends. In hindsight it probably wasn’t a good idea to walk so closely to the scattered palm trees that homeless looking kids were hanging around. Happy to say though that was the only thing we had taken from us while in Rio!
We then headed over to Ipanema to find a restaurant & ordered WAY too much food – all of which was VERY salty. We were dying for some water when we finished eating! While we were waiting for the leftover food to be cleared a kid came to our table and we realized that he was asking for our leftover rice to eat so we told our waiter who unfortunately didn’t pack it up for the kid. We figured they don’t want to get lots of kids hanging around asking patrons for food. We also found out later that some restaurants reuses rice. I’d prefer to think it was the first reason. A sad reality of Rio.
After dinner we headed back to the Copacabana beach area so that Linds & Joe could look around the night markets that were set up in the median of the road for some last minute souvenirs. Some of the market stalls didn’t have much to offer, but there was a number of artists selling paintings some of which were pretty decent. After we headed back to our hotel to say a sad goodbye.
We were so glad Linds & Joe decided to spend their vacation & birthday celebrations with us in Brazil! Thanks for joining us on our adventure – miss you guys already!!