I am really glad, I did not let those popular biases perform interpellation on me. Otherwise, I would not have experienced the carioca landscapes between the mountains and the seas.
My visit to Rio de Janeiro was spent for a few hours only. I will definitely go back to Rio to explore more its magnificence. Not to mention, within this World Heritage Site (WHS), another site was inscribed on the very day I was there (12 July 2017): the Valongo Wharf Archaeological Site. This site is only a few kilometers away from the RD Santos Dumont Airport but I was only able to read about its inscription when I returned to São Paolo. The next time I will visit Rio, I will have to include this in the itinerary. I will also make sure to spend more days to really engage the vibrant and dynamic city.
According to my local guide (my driver – my bad, I do not remember his name), Rio’s current landscape is a product of a series of alterations beginning the 17th century. The alterations were intended for the planting of sugar canes (for sugar) and to allow coffee to grow. Sooner, some of the plantations were abandoned and these became the parks as we know today. The different parks of Rio are now protected by the city government.
The alterations of the landscape produced what the locals call the carioca cultural landscape. Carioca literally means the “house of carijo,” the original settlers of Rio de Janeiro. Then my guide elaborated (not verbatim) why it is associated with Rio: “today, carioca refers to the mood of Rio de Janeiro, which is a combination of samba and basso nova and the natural beauty of the mountains and the beaches. That’s why if you look at the surrounding, it is as if, the landscape is performing the carnival.” I feel so fortunate that my guide is well-versed about the development of his beloved city. In the same way, I felt how proud he is as a local of Rio: “Have you considered leaving Rio?” I asked. “I have to say I did before – when I was younger. But you know, why would you want to live elsewhere, if you have a beautiful city like this one. It is not a rich city but everyone gets by.”
I told him about how the popular culture represents Rio. His response was simple, and in a way, very direct: “Which city is safe? New York? London? Paris?” Ah, it made sense.
I told him to bring me to the designated World Heritage Sites. He informed me that there are five inscribed sites: Tijuca National Park, including Corcovado peak and its Christ the Redeemer statue; The Botanic Garden; The Flamengo Park; Guanabara Bay, including the Sugar Loaf; and the Copacabana Beach Front. I wanted to see them all, I said. “If you want to see them all,” he told me “You have to stay for another two days.” Ouch!
Rio de Janeiro was inscribed as a WHS in 2012. Its inscription was based on criteria (v) and criteria (vi). Accordingly, the development of Rio de Janeiro has been shaped by a creative fusion between nature and culture, which was persistent, as stated earlier, as early as the 17th century. These processes of alterations, produced by the interactions of the natives (original settlers) and the settlers (mostly from Africa from the slave trade during colonization) have created an urban landscape that became an inspiration for many artists and creative workers in the visual arts, literature, music, and dance.
My first stop was the Sugarloaf.
I arrived at the site at 9 AM. The queue at the ticket office was not long. By 9:30 AM, I was already inside the huge gondola (cable car) that would bring me from the mainland to the first mountain (Morra da Urca).
Going there was breathtaking. Inside the gondola, the panoramic view of the city was absolutely stunning. From inside, Christ, the Redeemer was already peeping and as if waving his hands and was greeting everyone inside “hello and peace be with you.”
I spent around thirty minutes strolling around the first mountain. What is notable is the view of the Guanabara Bay. The sails of the boats and the yachts are perpetually dancing as if samba performers who are excited to converge at mid-bay. Then adding to the spectacle are the airplanes that alternately take-off and land in the nearby airport (SDU).
By 10:20 AM, I queued to the gondola leading to the second mountain: Pão de Açúcar or the Sugarloaf. Arriving at the Sugarloaf was exciting because it is considered to be one of the highest peaks in Rio where a panoramic view of not only the entire city but also the Atlantic and some Brazilian islands. From above, one will definitely recognize the curves of the mountains resembling a sexy carnival dancer.
My second stop was the Tijuca National Park.
We arrived at the Park at 11:30 AM. I had to make a decision: do I want to explore the entire park or do I want to see another designated site?
I decided to see Christ, the Redeemer in order for me to see the Botanical Gardens before flying back to São Paolo. By 12 noon, I was already queuing at the coach terminal. It took us about 15 minutes to reach the main entrance of the Christ, the Redeemer. Another 20 to 25 minutes walk to the top. It was a tiring walk but it was all worth it.
The magnificent statue of Christ was dancing with the clouds. From the view deck, Rio is a beauty queen. As the clouds passed by the huge image, it was as if, Christ himself was dancing with the movement of the clouds. I was imagining Gregorian antiphones combined with Bossanova music.
After lunch, we headed to the Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro.
It was already 3:15 PM when we arrived at the park. The staff at the ticket center told me a comprehensive tour of the garden takes about four to five hours. I was saddened but I was determined to see what is inside. I had about two hours to see the gardens. It was unfortunate that I had to rush my stay – but I do not regret visiting the garden. The history of the garden also underwent several alterations: from being a colonial paradise to a city pride.
My day at Rio ended at 5:45 pm. My driver sent me back to the airport.
To call Rio de Janeiro a paradise is an understatement. There is still more for me to explore and more for me to experience.
I am definitely going back to Rio and just like my first visit, I wish she will welcome me once again with open arms.
(This is the last part of an earlier entry. To read part 1, click here).