Thursday, June 18, 2015

This Girl's on Ipanema...and Leme...and Sugar Loaf Mountain

Friday, June 12, 2015
This Girl’s On Ipanema…and Leme...and on Sugar Loaf Mountain.

            I awoke refreshed to another bright and very sunny Rio morning. With breakfast of cereal and milk, passionfruit yogurt, a ham and cheese-filled croissant, fresh fruit and coffee consumed, I was ready to hit the sightseeing trails again. And this time I would cover two more Rio Highlights—Sugar Loaf Mountain and famed Ipanema Beach.

            Shower done, I dressed and was out the door by 8.30 am as my guidebook had told me to get to Sugar Loaf Mountain as early as possible, both to beat the heat and the crowds. Into the Metro train I popped and rode it south to Botafogo metro station from where I took a connecting bus to Urca. Getting to Sugar Loaf Mountain is a bit of a production as it a bit out of the way and has no direct access.  Still, I was proud of the fact that I found the right bus stop and the right bus despite the debilitating language barrier.

 Climbing Sweet Sugar Loaf Mountain (Pao de Acucar):

            Sugar Loaf Mountain has neither sugar (or sugarcane) nor loaves anywhere near it. It is so-called because its conical shape reminded early Portuguese settlers of the conical molds used for the straining of sugarcane juice for making sugar and cashaca, the fermented liqeur that goes into caprinhas. Like Corcovado, it is visible from many parts of Rio and sits, quite prettily, in lovely Guanabarra Bay which is dotted with sailing craft.

            As in the case of Corcovado, there is a contraption that gets you up the mountain—only this one isn’t a picturesque tram that runs through a rain forest but a modern-day, very spiffy cable car hanging on thick cables. For the sum of R62(approx.. $21) that included the return ride to and fro as well as entry to the summit, a visitor has just as stunning a selection of postcard views of the city—and this time with very little aggravation for there are fewer tourist hordes.

            So, joining other visitors in their quest for the cable car station, I found it tucked away at the end of the street on which the bus had let me off. I bought my ticket and ascended into the very modern cable car boarding station and was soon leaving Mother Earth behind and beginning my ascent to the top. It was a much clearer day too and the city was not enshrouded in fog. As land grew more distant, we were dropped off at the first landing level called Morro de Urca (Urca Mountain) which offered really stunning views of Guanabarra Bay from many angles as well as delightful sightings of commercial aircraft taking off from the airport into the blue Brazilian skies. Of course, I did take several pictures because my camera simply did not wish to stop. On the opposite side, I could see Christ the Redeemer spreading forth His embracing hands only to be covered in thick cloud every few minutes.

            A short circumnavigation of the mountain took us to the second landing dock for ascent to the next level. Another short spurt in the cable car brought us to the summit of Sugar Loaf Mountain as we climbed ever higher. Once up there, a fierce wind threatened once again to blow off my baseball cap and I clung on to it for dear life. A few paces ahead was a lovely look-out point that offered a stunning, unbroken view of Copacabana Beach with its beige sands and its spiffy hotels on the promenade. From other parts of the mountain, one could spy still more attractive curves and angles of this beautiful city. There were many opportunities, in fact, to receive bird’s-eye views of Rio which is not common in other cities. It is easy to take in the seamless connections between nature and human development for every structure seems to have been carefully considered in terms of where or how it would fit within the complicated land and sea scape. It was really a pretty introduction to the city from a darling vantage point and I do think that although Christ the Redeemer is the more famous of the two locales, Sugar Loaf Mountain has much more going for it.

On Vermelha Beach and the Claudio Coutinho Trail:

Upon reaching ground level, I briskly went in search of a Trail named after Claudio Coutinho, a famous Brazilian football player. It is to be found at the base of Sugar Loaf Mountain and comprises a footpath that has been cut into the mountain following the curve of the sea. In attempting to find it, I was on the sands of the much-lesser known Vermelha (Red) Beach which is devoid of tourists but filled with locals enjoying the sun, sea, sand and surf. I sat on the stone parapet overlooking the waves for a long while and munched on a sandwich as I watched fifty shades of Brazilian bodies gleam in the sun.

            For what is remarkable about Brazilians, as I discovered on this visit, is how multi-racial they are. Truly, as in India, you can find every shade of complexion in this complex land—from Caucasian white (direct descendants of the Portuguese colonial settlers who arrived with the ‘discovery’ of Brazil by Pedro Cabral in the early 1500s) to Afro-Brazilians (descendants of African slaves brought to Brazil by the Portuguese from their colonies in Angola and Mozambique) and every shade in-between as a result of the immense inter-racial co-habitation that has gone on in Brazil for centuries. If there is any form of racism in Brazil, I was not made aware of it during my short stay. Instead I found people living in great harmony together irrespective of their skin color or class—for it is also evident that, as in India, there are a plethora of economic levels of prosperity. Extraordinarily wealthy Cariocas (as seen in the sophisticated coffee shops) share space with the homeless and with beggars—both of whom I saw on the streets very frequently.

            After I spent a while musing and enjoying the hssh-hssh of the waves on Vermelha Beach where I spotted surfers, kayakers, swimmers and sun-bathers, I began my trek along the lovely pathway named for Coutinho. I also discovered, while in Brazil, that all the surnames with which I am completely familiar through my Indo-Goan heritage, are pronounced quite differently in India (where they have become heavily Anglecized). For instance, Coutinho is pronounced Coo-tin-yo. And Noronha is pronounced No-ron-ya. Moraes is pronounced Mo-raish and Soares is pronounced Su-or-aish. Mendes, therefore, becomes Men-daish. Keeping my ear closely sensitive to the sound of words as they are pronounced on the Portuguese tongue, I found great similarities with French. For example, it is customary to greet anyone you meet with the words Bom Dia which is pronounced Bonjia—its similarly to the French Bonjour which is also used to mean Good Day and begins any conversation is surprisingly similar.

            The Trailway was as delightful as I expected. It is not very populated so I did not expect throngs. But I was not afraid as there is an army base close by and the presence of military personnel in uniform was evident everywhere. On this trail, I passed by very pretty birds that looked like parrots but were very differently colored—I believe they are called tanagers. I also saw what looked like kingfishers with long sharply pointed beaks. Seagulls and dark black cormorants were everywhere bathing and sunning themselves on the rocks that jutted into the crashing waves. On the bottom, where the ocean met the land floor, I saw fishermen trying their luck. Families were picnicking on the edge of the trail seated on benches that afforded lovely views of Vermelha Beach. Indeed, it was a perfect morning for a walk and I enjoyed the trail very much. About a half hour into the walk, I turned around as I still had a great deal of exploring left to do for the day and did not want to tire myself out too much.

 The Girl’s Going to Ipanema:

            Back at the bus stop, I found the bus that would take me to Ipanema—another lovely long bus ride through the warrens of the city showed me many different faces of it. I loved the experience of traveling with local Cariocas and of becoming a part of their daily commute to work or their daily chores. I asked a girl seated in front of me to tell me when to hop off for I was headed to Ipanema and her English was good enough for her to assure me that she would do the needful.

            Like Copacabana, Ipanema Beach is famous globally. It was a song that put it on the tourist map—a song called The Girl From Ipanema with which all jazz enthusiasts are familiar. I was keen to get a bit of the local action there and when I got off at the Vincius Moraes stop, I could already smell the salt tang of the sea air. It took me two seconds to discover that Ipanema is a far cry from Copacabana. The approach to the latter is still seedy, run-down, unimpressive. The former, well…it turns out to be the most sought-after address is Rio and the hang out of all the most beautiful people. Trendy restaurants, high-end stores, designer fashion boutiques—they are all here in the three long streets and many by-lanes that compose the area.

But I wasn’t there for the shopping—it was the beach I was after. And when I got there, I found another endless stretch of black and white mosaic stone pavement and a wide white sand beach behind it. The waters were equally azure but the waves were far more in control for the  tide was probably out. It was a good time to wet my toes and peeling off my sandals, I waded in gasping at first at the coolness of the water and then enjoying it immensely. Many pictures later (for these land and seascapes just beg to be photographed), I was off. At Zona Sul, a lovely upscale supermarket on the corner of one of the streets, I stocked up on more food for the next few days—more custard apples (I simply could not get enough of them!), gorgonzola cheese, bottled water.

Then I walked to the subway and while on it heading home to Gloria for a much-needed rest, I read up on the history of the song that put Ipanema on the global map. Indeed, the long roadoin which I had been walking (Rua Vincinus Moraes) was named after the song’s lyricist—he and composer Antonio Carlos Jobim had created it in 1962 based on the fact that they would see daily a very beautiful young girl walk past the bar at which they drank and make her way to the sea. They knew that she was far above their league—she was young, they were faded musicians; she was privileged, they were penniless. They wrote the song for her because both of them fell in love with the image of this gorgeous girl and because Age had bestowed on them a certain truth of which she was unaware—that Time would rob her of her beauty, her vivacity, her hopefulness. So, the song is not just about falling in love but about regret at our inability to hold back the cruel hand of Time—rather like Shakespeare’s Sonnets really. It won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year in 1965 after Frank Sinatra recorded it with English lyrics written by Norman Gimbel.

Back home, I put my groceries away in the fridge and lay down for a while. At 4 pm, I awoke, got freshened up and walked to the Windsor Florida Hotel to attend a session at the conference that I was keen to hear. Right after it ended at 5. 30, we were supposed to be taken on a Walking Tour of the city entitled “Walking Between Night Lights in Downtown Rio” by Dr. Joao Baptista Ferreira de Mello, professor at the State University of Rio. But sadly, the skies had turned rain-ridden and the good professor decided to call the walk off.

Dinner on the sands of Leme Beach:

            Plan B went into action. The 12 of us who had signed up to take the walk decided to go out for dinner instead—to Leme Beach which adjoins Copacabana Beach—and that was what we did. We piled into taxis and hit the sands and, in one of the beach shacks, decided to eat the offerings of a very modest eatery. The waves made fine music in the background as Prof. Anna Sodolewska from Poland and I decided to share a plate of 10 bacalau balls and a giant plate of Brazilian fish—they served the curried fish whole —with rice and salad. Nothing to rave about, I’m afraid, but the joy of sipping another frosty caprinha on the sands of Leme was romantic and I soaked it all in.

            By 8. 30 pm, we were done for the evening—yeah, we profs are a rockin’ and rollin’; lot!—and into cabs we piled. I shared one with Prof. Theo from Metropolitan College in New York who dropped me at my building and carried on to his hotel in Cinelandia.

            All it took then were a few minutes for me to prepare for bed with brushing and flossing of my teeth and PJs to piled into.

            Until tomorrow, ciao!       

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