Captivated by Rio

2012-07-13 13:15

Boasting what is believed to be the largest Art-Deco statue in the world, long and world-famous beaches, and abundant natural beauty up in its rolling hills and down on its trendy pavements, Rio de Janeiro truly is spectacular.

As one with an eye for aesthetics, I was inspired to take this trip to Rio after hearing of its beautiful people and settings. My Portuguese friends spoke of the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvellous City), and it lives up to the name.

It bursts with culture, colour and rhythm. There is a pace about the city, with music everywhere and a soul that characterises it as one of the world’s most vibrant melting pots.

On touchdown, I was a little jarred by how uninviting the airport looks.

It’s nothing like our modernised OR Tambo International, but that’s a minor thing.

While the airport may not look like much, the Brazilians themselves are stunning.

There is eye candy of every shape and form wherever you look, and every day is a Rio Carnival.

I tore my eyes from the lovely passing throng to hop in a yellow cab.

The driver seemed to understand only one thing I said, my drop-off point.

Speaking English to cab drivers seems to send them into a tailspin.

From the airport we passed amazing vegetation – huge trees swayed in the gentle breeze with gigantic green leaves against a sky that is blue even at night.

The picture-perfect scenery was disturbed by what looked like a dilapidated construction site. I asked the driver “favela” and I received a pleasant smile. The favelas are slums that add texture to the two worlds that exist in Rio.

The ultrarich are settled fabulously at the foot of the hills with views of only the main roads and trees, while the destitute are, ironically enough, perched at the very top of the city and enjoy the most spectacular views.

Picture this: you live in a one-room shanty and every day you wake up to Christ the Redeemer standing there majestically, bathed in the orange sun of daybreak on Corcovado Mountain, and framed by Sugar Loaf Mountain – isn’t that heaven?

Somehow it seems better to be poor in Rio, if only for the breathtaking scenery.

It’s also not hard to see why Unesco recognised the iconic natural landscapes as a World Heritage Site.

Our drive from the airport continued as we were swallowed by a tunnel and one of the city’s headache-inducing traffic jams.

Ever the cynic, and paranoid in a country notorious for murders, I started panicking over whether this tunnel would ever regurgitate us back into the outside world. But we eventually made it out alive.

I was dropped off at the Sheraton in Barra, my home for the next few days. The place reminded me of Durban’s North Beach.

As I scanned the beach front, I noticed people working out, despite the time being close to midnight.

Gasp! Women were doing their stretches and lunges on the pavements, and even the elderly were strolling with their cocker spaniels. This instantly changed my perception of Rio as an unsafe place.

The next day, I hit the town and ventured into the districts of Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana. The experience was sublime.

The beaches are organised, clean and inviting. I was blown away by the soft, white sands and the bluest of blue Atlantic water.

To sample local drinks, I ordered coconut water at a nearby kiosk and there they were again, the fitness fanatics on the beach.

I am convinced Brazilians are not only the most beautiful, but also the fittest people in the world.

I even spotted a man in his 70s in a Speedo. It was easy to see how the country gave the world such one-name soccer wonders as Pele, Bebeto, Kaka, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho.

The secret of Victoria is also not too well kept: Brazilian models Alessandra Ambrosio, Gisele Bündchen and Adriana Lima made the brand as sexy as it is.

There is no excuse to eat junk food here – tills are not ringing at fast-food joints.

At arm’s reach you can easily indulge in several varieties of mango, banana, watermelon and coconut water.

The Brazilians are proud of their Portuguese language and heritage – they seem at ease with one another and have a more cohesive society than South Africa’s.

Yes, the city is overpopulated, but it is friendly and has efficient public transport that runs into the early hours of the morning.
I will be back for the 2014 Fifa World Cup, whether Bafana Bafana make it or not.

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