Coming into Rio de Janiero from the airport in a cab – temperature is 29 degrees. When the traffic slows and stops, motorcycles pass by at speed on either side of the car. It's chaotic and loud. Rio is a drama queen. She wants everyone to pay attention to her and she doesn't necessarily care why. At first she seems a bit spoiled and a little proud, but as I spend some time here, I begin to see that Rio just has an independent spirit. It's not easy to communicate in Rio. Portuguese is very different than French or Spanish so I'm reduced to gesture. Gradually, I figure out “good day” and “good afternoon” and “thank you” and “please.” And then also “very good.” Funny how just a few words can do most of what you need them too when all you're doing is trying to get around and maybe buying a coffee.
The afternoon we arrive, I'm a little intimidated to venture too far and a little overwhelmed. But it's a beautiful day and the beach is across the street. A walk down the beach after seven and a half hours travel seems like a good idea. But there is no chance of a quiet stroll on Ipanema Beach. As soon as I cross the street, there are vendors wanting to rent me chairs and umbrellas, to sell me cangas or drinks or steamed corn. All up and down the beach there are circles of six or seven young men (sometimes there is a young woman among them too) volleying a soccer ball around the group. They're very skilled at juggling – soccer players back home would be humbled. There are surfers in the water but the break is close and they're mostly getting pounded by the surf. It's the land of 10,000 bum cheeks. My first walk on the beach feels like I'm being collectively mooned by most of Rio. My wife told me that when I got here I would understand what a Brazillian wax is and what it's for. And ok, got it, except I'm wondering what the bikinis are for. Why bother at all. And there are men parading along the beach who clearly have no idea that the sun causes cancer.
In the morning the next day we cab over to Corcovado with the rest of the tourists—the famous giant Christ the Redeemer statue. But it's one of those things like going up the Eiffel Tour in Paris or along the Great Wall in China; just because it's crowded and touristy, doesn't mean you can skip it. The view is stunning: 2316 feet. It's easy to see why the builders wanted to put the thing so close to heaven.
And then over to Sugar Loaf mountain which is equally stunning. It sticks up out of the ocean like a thumb. There is a cable car to the top or a vigorous hiking path. We ride up in the cars and stroll around. Then I get a good idea. Why don't we walk down, I suggest. And within minutes of setting off down the trail, we're lost having followed a side path used by weekend climbers. It's bush whacking conquistador style. But eventually we get going the right way. There are iguanas and millions of birds and critters in the forest although we hear them more than we see them. What's a trip without adventure. How can you have stories later if you never get lost?
It's Tuesday. Four days into the adventure and it feels like weeks. There are Christmas decorations all over the place and we've seen Santa several times; once in a delivery truck, and once, texting on his phone. There is a mall in Leblon full of Christmas decorations. It could be the Bay Centre. But outside, it's Christmas in Rio and the surf's up so we're off to spend another hour or two in the sun.