A Sensory Overload!: Brazil
To visit South America had been a long-cherished dream, confused by issues of safety and security. Stories of snatched handbags and gold chains and disappearing suitcases seemed to turn my wish into an impending nightmare. A friend at a Mumbai travel agency, hearing my moan, came up with a plan that took care of my fears. “Go with Globus tours!” exclaimed Meher Framjee of Holidays@leisure. “Everyone I have sent has loved their South America tours.” And so I discovered myself with my husband, on a long flight to Brazil from Mumbai on my first-ever escorted tour that I did not regret for a moment, despite initial reservations. All I had to do was choose the one that I wanted from a hefty brochure and everything was taken care of from carefully chosen luxury hotels to a range of restaurants and sightseeing tours. This proved to be travel with nary a care in a country with a startlingly high perception of crime. The best part? There were enough days and meals that we could do on our own, just for that little bit of breathing space!
Rio de Janeiro — Beach Party Central
So, here we are, all set to experience the ‘Spirit of South America’, a 15-day journey of discovery of three countries. At Rio de Janeiro’s Sheraton Hotel, at the welcome meet called by tour director Fernando Bordallo who brings 31 years of experience to the field, we eye each other with care, for these are our travel companions for the next 15 days. They have come from all over the world, from the US and Canada to the Phillipines and beyond; we would learn so much of their lives and families over shared meals and bus rides, adding a completely new dimension to our travels. Formalities and introductions over, with no time to waste, we jump onto our luxury bus to encounter our first country and city on this adventure.
Brazil’s capital city had conjured up images of skimpy bathing suits on glorious beaches, the samba, bossa nova, football and the spectacle of ‘Carnaval’ in all its tinselled glory. All this under the outstretched arms of Christ the Redeemer, that iconic statue atop Corcovado Mountain recalled from haunting postcard images of yore and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Today, however, we depart for Sugarloaf Mountain, shaped like a French baguette rising out of the water. A cable car ride in two stages takes us to the very top for magnificent views of sandy stretches, lagoons, mountains, giant rocks rising out of the sea and forests; I discover that Rio boasts the largest city-surrounded rainforest in the world, bang in the middle of the urban sprawl. We toast our first evening with a caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail starring the local spirit cachcça, and later have dinner at a beachside restaurant.
However cliched, I wish to wander Rio’s famous southern beaches along the Atlantic coastline, the following day, eschewing an optional tour to Petrópolis, a historical town nearby. We walk down Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, enjoying the picturesque promenade filled with vendors selling bikinis and sunglasses, artists painting and displaying their works for sale, and beach lovers sprawling out on deckchairs under the brilliant sun. A lone surfer crests a wave and there are some swimmers who dare the chilly water. We discover the cafe, Bar e Restaurante Garota de Ipanema, where the lyrics and music of the hit song Garota de Ipanema (Girl from Ipanema) was composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes. Walking past the Fasano hotel’s nondescript exterior, we discover a crowd of locals hoping to catch a glimpse of Madonna and U2 who are in town for producer Guy Oseary’s wedding (actually renewed vows) to Brazilian model Michelle Alves. We hear that the event is to be held later that evening on Corcovado Mountain. Under an umbrella, we toss-up between a caipirinha and chilled coconut water at a kiosk, and watch the mountains shrouded in clouds, the cyclists, walkers and joggers around us. The perfect place for people watching! In the city of carnivals, right now the carnival is in my heart, I realise! I could happily live the Carioca lifestyle.
The next two days are a cornucopia of amazing things that have been scheduled for us in this wonderful city. We take the cog railway through lush forest, to the top of Corcovado where the statue of Christ the Redeemer overwhelms with its immensity even as the wind whips at us as we ape the statue’s stretched arms for photographs. “This is not a church,” claims our local guide. “It is a work of art and created by each and every woman in the city, who, after the Sunday church service in her own locality, would add to pieces of the soapstone mosaic that finally made up the whole.” We visit the ugly conical exterior of the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian, dedicated to the city’s patron saint, to find within a beautiful atrium embellished with soaring stained glass windows. We drive around the business area with its modern high-rises interspersed with iconic old buildings. In the evening we sample a churrascaria dinner, the famous Brazilian barbecue which starts with tables laden with salads and small bites and continues into an orgy of meats on skewers — as much as your stomach desires. We enjoy a samba show with just the teeniest taste of the Carnaval — outrageous costumes, superb dancing, martial-arts performances, jugglery, acrobatics — an amazing experience staged just for us! Rio has lived up to every expectation in an organised and safe manner.
Globus’ hotel selection…is on point right through with picturesque, well-situated hotels that are amazingly adept at checking in 30 people at once in no time and providing large rooms and beds replete with a huge collection of pillows….
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