Copacabana! Ipanema! It’s Rio!

Day 16, Grand World Voyage 2020

Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Our first view of Rio de Janeiro came early on Sunday morning as the Amsterdam sailed past Sugarloaf Mountain into Guanabara Bay. The captain invited passengers to enjoy the iconic sail-in from the open bow on deck 4 or from the Crow’s Nest. As the sky was a bit misty and overcast, we opted for the enclosed Crow’s Nest. The entry didn’t generate the “wow” feeling of my first time entering Sydney or Shanghai, probably because the sun didn’t break through to highlight the Christ the Redeemer statue and Sugarloaf.

But still – Rio! We are excited to be in this exciting city.

The city is a mixture of old and new, as evidenced right from the cruise pier. Modern skyscrapers provide a background for old warehouses, which have been repurposed as bus terminals for cruise tours and canvases for giant murals. Many sidewalks are paved in the geometric or undulating light and dark patterns also seen in Portugal, the country that colonized Brazil.

Elaine and I have two full days ahead of us, having signed up for a two-day independent tour by Do Brazil Right, (a tour company I can heartily recommend). Our independent group filled three buses, leaving just enough empty seats to be comfortable. Guide Victor filled the time driving through the city of 7 million with an overview of Rio’s history and geography. It’s a city that grew up in the small spaces between the mountains and the sea.

First stop: the Hippie Fair. This open-air Sunday market is just a block from Ipanema Beach and features crafts, art, clothing and other inexpensive items in booths covering four blocks. During our 30 minutes there I found a cute necklace of açai and cocoa beads for just $5. Once again I have broken my vow to stop buying things. At least I knew better than to purchase one of the art canvases that caught my eye. Having only the guest bedroom in my sister’s house when I’m not traveling doesn’t leave any place to hang art.

“Disaster” struck after we walked the short distance to Ipanema Beach and ventured out on the sand. In my single-minded effort to get a great photo of the sea, the surf, the sand and the mountains, I didn’t notice the wave that suddenly swept over my feet, clad in socks and sneakers. I spent the rest of the day squishing around, but our tour easily distracted me from the mild discomfort.

Copacabana Beach is just a block or so from Ipanema. Rather than walk over the long stretch of sand here to the beach in wet shoes, I settled for a local beer and some peanuts at one of the little beach cafes.

Enjoying a local beer on Copacabana Beach

If we thought the beaches were crowded, the hoards atop Corcovado Mountain at Christ the Redeemer – one of the new Seven Wonders of the World — put that impression to rest. We took the train through the forest up the mountain and then a combination of elevator and escalators to the top (stairs were an option we bypassed). I could hardly move through the crowd. The sightseers who lay down to take photos of the statue were in significant danger of being trampled. But the views of the city were impressive as is the size of the 98-foot tall statue.

By now our group was hungry, as most of us hadn’t noticed that the tour didn’t include lunch or even a lunch break. Our three guides realized we were in danger of becoming unhappy campers and arranged a private dining area in one of the local restaurants in Santa Teresa, a hilltop older neighborhood of cobblestone streets, trolley cars and art galleries.

I splurged on a half-order of Feijoada, a traditional stew of beans, beef and pork that is Brazil’s national dish.  It came with a pork chop and collard greens, and of course I added another local beer. Elaine had shrimp balls wrapped in pumpkin – an interesting combination we’re glad we tried (but I wouldn’t order them again).

Our day wasn’t over when we returned to the ship. The Lido featured a Brazilian steakhouse dinner. And local Samba musicians and dancers entertained to standing room audiences in two shows on board. Fortunately, we got seats in the earlier show. I have no idea where they get the energy to dance so fast for so long – on high heels.

Speaking of energy, ours was gone. I laughed that here we are in exciting Rio and going to bed before 10 p.m. Oh well, we have another busy day tomorrow.