Brazilians hold elections like carnivals.
I got the chance to see this for myself as I strolled around one of the most beautiful parts of Rio - the Lagoa Rodrigo dei Freitas. At the southwest corner of the lake was a political rally. About 100 people blew whistles and waved white and blue flags. They jumped and danced around to the beat of drums and there was an air of a festival. One woman grabbed my hand, shouted something excitedly about "Da Silva!" and tried to drag me along with the show.
Da Silva was of course the centre-left candidate who got elected this year. From my Brazilian friends here in London I know that the country elected it''s first left wing President in twenty years. But what made me laugh is that the party workers had choosen to hold their rally in probaly the most conservative, wealthy and bourgeois part of Rio de Janeiro - the Lagoa de Freitas.
This huge saltwater lake is behind Ipanema and Leblon beaches. It lies in an epic bowl surrounded by the jungle covered mountains of the Tijuca NP. The Christo Redentor statue looks like a little fly speck at the top of one of these mountains and is stunning reflected in the calm waters of the lake (see below photo). The lake is about 7.5 km in circumference and provides a bracing walk after the heat of Ipanema beach or the shopping down Rua Visconda Piraji. Its shores are lined with jogging tracks, tennis courts, restaurants, sports clubs and samba schools. When you take a taxi from Centro or the airport and head for your beach accommodation in Ipanema or Copacabana nine times out of ten you will pass the Lagoa de Freitas and marvel at the scenery.
The scenery is the main attraction. There are plenty of ways to enjoy it including hiring pleasure craft on the lake. But most stroll or jog along the 7.5km circumference via a palm tree lined pathway. From here the mountains that surround Rio look exceptionally close, and a great undulating vegetation covered ridges will block your sight north, east and west (see photo). As the mountains finish the city begins and the exclusive villas of the wealthy dot the hillside with views over the Lagoa and Ipanema. The wealthy frequent the sports clubs which dot the lake with the most famous being the jockey club whose immaculately kept racetrack dominates the western side. Bus 592 departs from outside and the managers do not mind you wandering in and having a look around so long as you buy a drink.
In fact part of the fun of this walk is watching the Cariocas. They don''t get as many tourists as Copacabana and are more natural. Families will spread themselves out on the park, old people will ask you if you want your photo taken up against the mountains and everyone is more relaxed and friendly then in Centro Rio. If you can make sure the end of your wandering is the Parque Tom Jobim (named after Rio''s famous samba composer) where they hold a small hippy fair on a Sunday. It is cordoned of for rollarbladers, joggers and families who have huge boomboxes blaring ''Bossa Nova'' across the lake.
If you make it this far then you must have a wander around Leblon. The streets around here are lined with moneyed apartment blocks and grass verges which look like botanical gardens. At the western end is the Morro de San Conrado (San Conrado mountain) which separates Leblon from Barra di Tijuca. The most famous feature of this mountain is the Rochina favela (slum) which clings to the mountainside like an ants nest. Past this is the mega-wealthy area of Barra di Tijuca with it''s condo''s, super-apartment blocks and more millionaires. I was shown around by a friend who works there and it consists of shopping malls, sports car showrooms and exclusive restaurants. It is Brazil''s equivalent of Palm Beach. Ronaldo and half the Brazilian football team live there in luxury.
Many tourist hotels are situated there and their huge complexes, to my surprise, backed onto the Rochina favela. I spoke with two tourists who said they could watch favela-dwellers trudge to work from their sunbeds. How dare the poor of Rio interrupt their cocktails by the pool....how inconsiderate can you get?