by Richard L. Weaver II
As most places are, it was difficult to envision Rio at all before visiting, and had we not taken a private tour on our second day there, we certainly would not come to "know" the city in the way we did. Sure, you see photos and hear stories, but the picture remains incomplete (seriously flawed!).
Rather than sleeping on our first day in Rio because of a bumpy, overnight flight, and little sleep, we took (made reservations for, first) a Sheraton Hotel free shuttle to Hotel Othon Palace. The shuttle takes you along Avenue Delfim Moreira just alongside the Ipanema Beach (made popular by "The Girl from Ipanema"—the well-known bossa nova song of 1962) and then around the corner to the Copacabana Beach. We got off the shuttle and walked along the broad, concrete, pedestrian pathway in the hot sun. The temperature was a comfortable 75-80-degrees with little humidity. We walked to the location of the Hotel Copacabana Palace then turned around and strolled back to the Hotel Othon Palace.
It was early for walking along the Copacabana Beach, and it was sparsely populated, but despite the early hour, there were people playing volleyball, little massage booths set up on the sand, a couple of elaborate sand sculptures with the artists "in residence" (one was continually spraying water on his "masterpiece" ro preserve it), many umbrellas near the water along the wide sand beach, people sitting in beach chairs (some distance from where we were walking), little "permanent" shops along the sidewalk for eating and drinking, numerous in-line skaters, skateboarders, joggers, bicyclers, walkers, and tourists (trying to take it all in).
Some vendors had laid out their wares (e.g., wood carvings, necklaces, cheap souvenirs crafts), and when we returned to Hotel Othon Palace (just beyond it on our return walk), at least 50 vendors were setting up their pipe-supported blue awnings, to sell their tee-shirts, trinkets, imported crafts and souvenirs, flip flops, and key chains and small, clear plastic monoliths with the "Christ the Redeemer" statue embedded or etched into them.
When you have visited one or two markets like this in the Caribbean (we’ve visited a half dozen at least), you really don’t have to see any more. Although the vendors were just setting up their booths, we walked through the area with cars traveling on either side, then walked back to the Hotel Othon Palace, where we rested.
My wife bought post cards and a "key-chain" of a flip-flop as a tree ornament at a store attached to the hotel.
Our Gray Line, air conditioned, big, orange bus met us exactly at 7 p.m. in front of the Hotel, and we returned to have dinner overlooking the Sheraton pool, the Atlantic Ocean, and surrounded by flaming torches in Sheraton’s Restaurante Mirador.
I mentioned this free excursion as a prelude to our private, guided tour the next day, since on the tour we passed by the Ipanema and Copacabana beaches—not having to spend valuable tour time to take pictures or to stop and observe.
Our private tour by Carla Hecke Gaiser began on our only full, free day before our cruise was to leave the next day. Carla worked as an independent sub-contractor for Princess. We paid $166.00 U.S. for a 4-hour tour, but we paid her $70.00 U.S. more, for an additional two hours and five minutes.
Along with our private tour with Michael Ye in Beijing, and a wonderful tour of Taipai, Taiwan, with Jan de Bries, this ranks among the best private tours we’ve had.
What makes an excellent tour guide? Carla had it all. She was highly educated (she chose, because of economic conditions) not to pursue a master’s degree in social services), intelligent, knowledgeable, and passionate about Rio culture.
We could not have written a script for a better tour of Rio. Our goal in new places is to try to get an overview (e.g., no visits into museums (takes too much time), botanical gardens (we’ve seen so many of them; we lived for a year in Hawaii), aquariums (we’ve seen some great ones already), historic homes, castles, or forts). In that way, we spend more time seeing the sights. It is our way of gaining an impression of a place—getting an overview.
After leaving Copacabana and Leme (a more quiet residential area just beyond Copacabana but sharing the same beach area), we went to the Urca area where we saw a relaxed, placid bay scattered with fishing boats with the international airport in the background (large jets ascending), and the Christ the Redeemer statue high across the bay. You see it from everywhere.
After leaving Leme, we visited Red Beach (Vermeha Beach) which is the starting point for the impressive Sugar Loaf Cable Car. It is a busy area filled with cars and pedestrians, and only when you see the far end of the Cable Car (from Urea Hill to Sugar Loaf) do you understand how long and high this cable car travels (average price for the cable car is $26.00 U.S. each). We did not do it; it would have taken-up the rest of our tour time.
Red Beach received its name (Praia Vermelha) from a stone or sand that turns red from oxidation. It is a romantic site (according to Carla), and a statue of Frederic Francois Chopin, the Polish composer and virtuoso pianist who is considered one of the great masters of romantic music, overlooks the beach. He has been called "the poet of the piano."
Our next stop was the Parque Do Flamengo along the shores of Guanabara Bay where we saw gardens designed by Roberto Burle Marx in 1962, and saw unique Brazillian trees. Many had orchids attached to them (many orchids were in bloom), and some trees still had flowers, despite the time of year (fall was approaching). We saw cannonball trees, crocodile trees, as well as apricot trees.
Just a quick aside here. Although not a trained botanist, Carla, our tour guide, has taken a special interest in local trees, shrubs, ferns, and flowers and knows their Latin names as well. She said, when we asked her, how did she come to know all the Latin names? She said that as she grew up, her father would not only point out the names of the trees, shrubs, ferns, and flowers the family encountered, but in each case, he would attach the Latin name—and she not only learned them, but she became interested in them as well.
I will continue to point out locations we encountered on our tour in the second essay on Rio de Janairo, Brazil. When I wrote this essay on Rio, I did not intend to divide it into two, but that has been my experience on private tours. We see and learn so much that it’s impossible to capture it all in a single essay.
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All there are at this site are images of Rio de Janairo, Brazil, but the images are fabulous and worth a look.
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Copyright February, 2013, by And Then Some Publishing LLC