What do you think of when you think of Brazil?
Probably a vista of miles and miles of steaming jungle broken only by meandering brown rivers and the cries of monkeys. Maybe Carnival? Maybe football? Maybe gigantic waterfalls..? But nine times out of ten the image flashing in your minds eye will be of the Chriso Redentor perched on it''s pinnacle high above Rio....
This is a sight worth crossing continents to see. This is the great icon and symbol of the ''Cuidade Marvelosa''. As famous as the Acropolis is to Athens or the Golden Gate to San Francisco. The sight of it floating majestically above the city is one that every visitor to Rio never forgets, and every visitor makes the pilgrimage to it''s summit for the kind of views of Rio that only god enjoys. The backdrop of the green mountains really enhance the experience and it is especially beautiful lit up at night when it seems suspended ethereally over the city with it''s arms outstretched.
The best advice I can give you is to go on a clear day. Take a look at the heavens before you set off so that when you reach the summit you are not staring at billowing cloud and not much else. Take a break from sunbathing on Ipanema to view what is many peoples favourite sight in Rio. It is, surprisingly, a long way form the beaches of the Zona Sul in the little outpost of Cosme Velho to the east of the Lagoa dei Freitas (see other journal). This little district borders the mountainous jungle of the Tijuca NP and still retains some colonial architecture but it''s main claim to fame is the starting point of the train to the summit of the Corcovado (hunchbank mountain). To get there either take a taxi (15 reals from Copacabana or Ipanema) or catch the 180/184 bus from Copacabana to Cosme Velho. You can actually walk to the summit of the Corcovado but this is a vertiginous climb taking about 2 hours but it takes you through some of the most undisturbed virgin jungle around Rio.
But the best way is the dinky red tram that leaves every twenty minutes from Cosme Velho. This costs 20 reals and is deservedly popular. The Corcovado itself is 710m high and is like a stark green-clad finger pointing into the sky. The ascent to the top is at a steep angle and the tram climbs at an angle of ninety degrees. This means that the floor is at a slope so anything like a dropped camera slides all the way to the back of the tram. It also stops at tiny stations in the jungle where people get on and off. Imagine living up here and having to take the tram every day. But the views when not obscured by jungle are spectacular and the tram takes half an hour to traverse the 3.8km of tracks. It only travels at 15 kmh which gives plenty of time for lots of oohhing and aahhing.
The most memorable view may be when you get to see the Lagoa de Freitas hundreds of feet below. When you see this then you know that you are approaching the summit. Once you do arrive most people sprint up the twenty or so steps to the actual statue but it is worth taking a look at the viewpoint to the rear of the mountain (see photo). The heart shaped lake was as smooth as silk from 710m up and surrounded by the rolling creases of the Tijuca NP. Ipanema could be seen from here but Copacabana was hidden by the streaked granite mountain of the Morro dos Cabritos. Lagoa''s Jockey club could be seen on the west side of the lake and the Jardim Botanico creeps up the dark green mountain.
And then a few steps take you to the rear of the statue. It stands 38m high with it''s arms outstretched like a high board diver or clapping for it''s favourite samba band. Around the front you can actually see it''s features (see photo) and it is very Art Deco with a beard and face of long straight lines. Massive arclights stand nearby to illuminate it at night and it''s religious significance is still observed with a chapel at the rear that is used for mass each sunday. But most people are here for the view and the concrete viewing platform that extends over the lip of the summit. It is on two levels and is usually filled with a glut of tourists posing with their arms outstretched on the steps (see photo). But prime viewing position is at the very tip of the viewing platform where they line their cameras up for one of the best views in the world.
I will do my best to put it into words...
Rio de Janeiro is spread out like a rolling carpet. To the south is Lagoa de Freitas and Ipanema beach blocked in by green mountains. Surrounding the Lagoa were a million or so houses, some inching up the mountain but most laid flat between the mountains and the sea. Copacabana itself could just about be seen but was blocked from the rest of the city by a chain of small green mountains. You could just about see the high-rise hotels on the beach and the islands in Guanabara bay. I thought It was like a great hand had scrunched up the world. To the far west was the inversed rugby ball shape of the Sugar Loaf standing proudly by Bortofago bay. This inlet was scattered with yachts and boats, and visible was the great curve where motorways arc between Flamengo and Catete. Finally, at the sharpest point of the city is the skyscraper downtown of Centro with the modernist pyramid of the Cathedral Nuovo. Between this and the slopes of the Tijuca NP is the hilly neighbourhood of Santa Teresa and most prominent of all is the gargantuan Maracana stadium - the largest stadium in the world. Guanabara bay is the backdrop for the city with great vessels moving along it''s coast and strings of islands which looked like pebbles from this point. And away in the distance is Rio''s twin sister, Niteroi - which glittered in the sunlight.
Cariocas claim that god created Rio. He may well have done but his son in the guise of the Chriso Redentor still looks gamely on from his perch. It keeps a wary eye on the great spread of Rio, and every visitor tries to guess what it is thinking about as he gazes at the city of sun, sin and samba laid out beneath him.