Going up: Rio de Janeiro from above

One of my petty obsessions is to flicker through the pages of glossy magazines, or of travel websites, scouting for those articles whose titles are inevitably starting with “Ten things to do in…” or “Nine amazing places in…”, read them and make a mental note not to go in any of the places recommended as “must see”, “awesome” or “magnificent”. I am a snob, I know, but chances are that either the writers are taking commissions from said places’ owners, or haven’t even been in the city or country they write about or, in general, are recommending some massively overpriced tourist traps.
There are, however, differences. Walking up the Brunelleschi cupola of Firenze’s Duomo is one of those. Doing a boat trip along the Thames in London is another. Visiting the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul is a third. No matter how many irritating, selfie-stick-toting twats you’ll encounter whilst there or how much you’ll have to shell out to get in: those are places that, once in a lifetime, have to be visited.
Rio de Janeiro has, I am happy to say, two such attractions. This city lies in an incredible natural location, with narrow stretches of flat land wedged between blue lagoons and towering morros shaped to resemble enormous eggs. Plus lush rain forest. It is, therefore, a city that deserves to be seen from above.
In order to do that, industrious cariocas have garnished two granite peaks with, respectively, a cable car and a rack railway. Plus a big statue of Jesus thrown in for good measure. Both charge hefty – at least for Rio standards – admission tickets, both are packed to the brim with the sort of people that populate travelers’ hell and both are not to be missed.
The Sugar Loaf gondola leaves from a quiet corner of Botafogo, from a building relegated in a corner of a square where large military administrative centres compete for the centre stage. We arrived there in time to see the gondola emerge from literally nowhere, out of a puffy cloud that engulfed Morro da Urca, the hill which had the audacity of wriggling in between the city and the Sugar Loaf proper.
]The journey stops first on top of the Morro da Urca, which already offers some good views of the city, of the military compound directly below (the Army seems to have this peculiar habit of snatching prime pieces of coast for their purposes, lucky them) and also allows to eyeball the pilots of the planes landing in Santos Dumont airport. If you’re not busy doing selfies, that is.
click on the photos to start the slideshow.
The second gondola leads up to the proper arrival. This is the Sugar Load, a granite peak that owes its name to the way refined sugar was shaped back in the days of Tudor England. Morro da Urca was a good appetizer: Sugar Loaf is the full, all-singing-all-dancing, three-course banquet, 360 degrees views included.
Sugar Loaf is an unparalleled terrazza sul mare, the quintessential watchtower – had it had one – so one might be inclined to think that visiting it would suffice to have an idea of Rio from above. Well, I beg to differ, for a simple reason: much like going on Paris’ Tour Eiffel will allow you to see you Paris but won’t let you gaze at the city and at the tower, from the Loaf you’ll see the whole of Rio but not the Loaf. And that’s a pity.
Enter Corcovado. It has, I have to say, less of a physique than the Loaf: maybe it’s because it’s carpeted with a thick forest, or maybe it’s because it is the spur of a much grander mountain range, but it’s not as imposing as its ‘cousin’. But, being the beanpole it is, it works like a charm in dominating the whole city, Loaf included. And, as I said before, it comes with its own personal Jesus statue, which at night gets illuminated and doubles as a sort of urban lighthouse, guiding lost pedestrians towards the nearest bar stocked with plenty of chilled Brahma beer.
Getting there involves either taking a train or a van from Cosme Vielho, a beautiful and otherwise not-so-touristy district of Flamengo. The train inches along a steep track, stopping in the middle of nowhere to allow locals to emerge out of the bush to sell water or, otherwise, to stare at the sweaty tourists. From the station, built at a quite an angle as well, steps lead up to the main viewing platform, where a few are busy praying and many more are indulging in the deplorable art of portraying themselves or each other in questionable poses, much to the benefit of their Facebook accounts. Jesus, from his corner, seems to ask himself “Did I really have to be nailed to a cross for these morons?” but nonetheless embraces his flock.
But the view, the view! It integrates the one from Sugar Loaf, it refines it. Not only the Loaf is now in the frame, but Ipanema and Leblon are now in full view, showing how there’s a whole lagoon nearby, but the deserted beaches of Barra da Tijuca are now peeping in and the whole Zona Norte appears for what it is, i.e. enormous. Sugar Loaf gives a restricted, almost snobbish view of the city, with the posh bits in the foreground and the rest squeezed at the margins; Corcovado, instead, privileges the other parts of the city, favelas included. Little wonder that Jesus is up here and not on the Loaf.
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4 Responses to Going up: Rio de Janeiro from above

  1. Once again couldn’t agree more with the first para. If I see another 13 reasons to go to Bangkok, or 9 reasons not to, I’ll probably jump out the window. i haven’t been to Rio yet

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Haha. No it’s got to be an odd number. It says so in all those how to be a famous blogger pieces from people I’ve never heard of.

    Liked by 1 person

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