Escaping Rio’s Electric Energy for Mountains, Forest

Days 46- 47, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov. 21-22, 2023; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

If “grand” describes Buenos Aires, then “electric” describes Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for me. I would say the city comes alive, but then, when is it not alive?

Our sail-in wasn’t as spectacular as some, given the low clouds that obscured the Christ the Redeemer statue in the distance. Clouds swirled around Sugarloaf Mountain as we sailed right past it into the large bay. Some passengers were caught by surprise as we arrived an hour earlier than planned.

On my 2020 overnight port call into Rio, we took a two-day tour that covered all the highlights – Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf, Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, Escadaria Selarón (set of famous tiled steps), etc. Rather than repeat the same experience, I started by leaving the city.

First, a bit of history that I didn’t know. Rio de Janeiro became the capital of the Portuguese empire when the royal court (10,000 people) relocated from Lisbon in 1808. The king’s eldest son, Pedro, essentially grew up in Brazil and made it his home after his father returned to Portugal, becaming Brazil’s emperor. To escape Rio’s summer heat, he built a summer palace in the mountains north of the city, today named Petrópolis.

It’s not that far from Rio, but between the city’s traffic and the winding road through the mountains, it took us about 90 minutes to get there. Our itinerary included a visit to the Imperial Museum in the palace, a full Brazilian steakhouse lunch with meats served from skewers and countless side dishes, a tour of what once was a grand casino, and stops at the cathedral, Crystal Palace and a scrumptious chocolate shop.

I made a quick dash through the museum (not that interested in the old furniture and prohibited from taking photographs) and settled in the gardens to sketch.

As we returned – and the scenic side of the trip was on my side of the bus – the sun began to set over the mountains.

A quick bowl of fresh pineapple served as dinner after my heavy lunch, and I hurried to the special show presented by our Oi Brazil team, joined by more local dancers and entertainers.

Today I joined a half-day Jeep tour of the Tujica National Park, a rain forest on the mountainsides right in the midst of the city. Again, it was a hot and slow drive through Rio’s crawling traffic, but we felt the temperatures quickly drop as we moved higher in the forest. It is filled with waterfalls, lush vegetation and numerous trails. Apparently, there also is wildlife, but we didn’t see any (except wooden replicas), despite the tour’s note that “wildlife sightings are likely but are not guaranteed.” Our guide said there was essentially no chance we would see any in the middle of the day.

As we left the forest, we headed to the popular beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana. Even with the screen over the open vehicles, it was hot in the midday sun and humidity. Were I to do it again, I would hire an independent guide to tour the forest, and then perhaps actually go to the beach rather than pass by at a crawl in heavy traffic.

The Oi Brazil musicians and dancers led our sail away on the Sea View Deck, leading the crowd in conga lines. The showgirls were happy to spend the evening posing with no shortage of older men (whose wives generally were taking the photos).

If we think we are escaping the heat, just two weeks after shivering in Antarctica, we will probably be in for a surprise. We’re heading up the Brazilian coast toward the Amazon River and the equator. I’ve seen media reports that the river’s water level is low, and many passengers are wondering whether we will be able to spend a week on the river, sailing up to Manaus. I guess we will have to wait and see.