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October 05, 2017

Let The Erstwhile Capital Of Brazil Thrill You With Its Lively Vibe

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena

On a recent visit to South America, we explored the former capital and returned with memories of a rich culture, beautiful landscape and, of course, Christ the Redeemer

Under a pristine azure sky that is dotted with cottony clouds, the clear blue waters — peopled by swimmers and surfers — stretch far beyond my eyes can see. I’m comfortably ensconced on a recliner under a sun umbrella on the Ipanema Beach, amidst several others who are spending a leisurely afternoon here — it seems as if the party never ends in the erstwhile Brazilian capital — a detail that is reinforced by the crowds spotted on the Copacabana Beach as well. I lazily let my toes curl into the sand as I sip first on refreshing coconut water and then on my chilled caipirinha. It is yet another morning that gives me a top-of-the-world feeling during my sojourn in the host city of the 2016 Olympics, Rio de Janeiro — as, lulled by the gentle sunlight, in my mind’s eye I can see the benign figure of Christ the Redeemer, whose outstretched arms seem to bless the landscape below him.

A few days ago, I — along with a very small group of like-minded travellers — have air-dashed to Rio, and walked the length of the airport to emerge into the bright Brazilian sun. Beating the inevitable jet lag that a journey to any of the Americas gives you, I have quickly settled down in my room with a view at the Grand Hyatt Rio de Janeiro, our appointed ‘home’ in Rio. Its balcony — that offers me an opportunity to have my morning cuppa in serenity — is a real treat, proving in its own way why Rio’s first self-styled ‘urban resort’ in the modern neighbourhood of Barra da Tijuca is a great place to stay at with its beachfront location, vast pool complex, multi-cuisine options and, of course, the legendary Hyatt hospitality.

Latin America, as our hosts tell us, is a region that, unlike the United States, few Indians have extensively explored earlier, even though time-wise the travel from our homeland is almost on par with a journey to the more popular (for Indians, at least) country. And if you follow the motto ‘be safe, not sorry’, your Rio rendezvous will get imprinted on your mind only for its happy moments.

In Brazil, since the national language is Portuguese — and most locals do not follow English — we are delighted to be shown the sights in our familiar language by Tatiana, an extremely voluble and friendly guide. So, stretching our happy feet shod in sturdy walking shoes, we quickly prepare to say “Oi, Rio!” to the tropical playground. And get set to admire not just its natural attractions but also take in the spectacular smiles and desirable derrières, and prepare to let our palates indulge in the food fiesta that is poised to appear on our plates.

Incredible heights…and highs
On the top of our bucket list of things to do while in Rio is a ‘pilgrimage’ to the statue of Christ the Redeemer — the iconic attraction of the destination — and it is with a sense of anticipation that we embark on this mission. As our vehicle motors up the twists and turns of the winding road to the top of Mount Corcovado, we can frequently spot him through the foliage of the trees. Once we’ve reached the summit, gone up an escalator and a flight of steps, we find ourselves at the foot of the immense statue. I tilt my head back in an attempt to see him in all his glory. After having my fill of his serene presence, I walk around the base and pray in the tiny chapel within, before moving to the edge of the platform to look out to the picture-perfect view below — of Rio’s attractive waters with bobbing boats and still landforms. These are sights that we have admired a few hours earlier from atop the Sugarloaf Mountain, so named because it resembles the conical shape of a sugarloaf. It is said that blocks of sugar were placed in conical molds of clay for transportation on ships. We reach its summit by taking two cable cars — first to Morro da Urca and then to Pão de Açúcar. In the less-than-five-minute ascent, we are treated to a 360-degree view of the surroundings.

On another occasion, we walk through the central district of Rio and head out to Santa Teresa in a tram that trundles along to what is popularly called the artistic heart of the city. After I have pushed my frame up the steps of the historic yellow vehicle, I sit back and enjoy the short ride to the breezy hilltop location which boasts many artists’ studios, guesthouses, restaurants and residences. Walking around its cobbled streets, we see some interesting examples of colonial architecture from the Portuguese era.

Another historic and iconic stop is the Escadaria Selarón, also known as the Selarón Steps. We stop and look up the colourful flight of stairs and are taken in by the effort and thought that must have gone into its creation. It has been recorded how the Chilean artist Jorge Selarón travelled around the world, selling his portraits, before he finally settled down in Rio’s Bohemian Lapa district. Then one day, he began renovating the steps outside his home. Soon, this became a mission for him. He first obtained the colourful tiles from Rio’s streets and then those donated from visitors from around the world. The fact that the masterpiece is a popular attraction for tourists can be seen by the number of people climbing up its incline, stopping to stare closely at tiles that grab their attention or to take a selfie or two.

Palate-pleasing plates
Although Rio has its local, extremely popular flavours and food offerings, foodies with diverse tastes will have no cause for complaint — as we realise over the many meals we (a mix of vegetarians and non-vegetarians) partake of. We are introduced to the pão de queijo over cocktails on the first night at the Grand Hyatt Rio de Janeiro, and after a few bites, all of us, like Oliver Twist, ask for more. Crispy on the outside, but soft and cheesy inside, the famed breads — a popular breakfast and snack item — prove to be extremely addictive.

Like its southern neighbour Argentina, Brazil too is known for its barbecued meats, as we discover to our delight, wishing our stomachs could stretch some more, when we venture out for a meal to Fogo de Chão — a Brazilian steakhouse that provides one of the finest barbecue experiences that I have ever had. Seated at a circular table at the expansive eatery, I sip on a caipiroska, a twist on the traditional caipirinha, and wait for a plethora of skewered meats to reach our table, one more succulent than the other. My personal favourite: the crispy hot chicken legs and the slices of meat from the tender leg of lamb. And, after the leisurely repast, we can scarcely stagger out to our vehicles, almost at the witching hour, and without any mishap reach our abode for a much-longed-for sleep.

On another night we are wooed with a fine selection of maki rolls, sashimi and more at the Japanese restaurant Shiso under the eagle eye of the hotel’s Chef Miriam Moriyama who personally ensures that each individual’s taste and preference is catered to. And, last but not the least, the cachaça, for a mention of food and drinks in Rio cannot be complete without a reference to it. Made from fermented sugarcane juice, it provides, as I discover with my first glass on the first night at Grand Hyatt, the fiery kick in caipirinhas, Brazil’s national cocktail. And on a later time devoted to shopping, I quickly grab two bottles from the supermarket and pack them away for a little indulgence at home.

Vibrant Vibes
Dance is integral to the lifestyle of Brazil. So one night, we step out to learn a few steps at Ginga Tropical — a popular samba show in the city of Rio. As we mentally put on our dancing shoes and walk into the hall in a five-star, a statuesque, lissome dancer greets us and winds her long limbs across one of the boys in our group. The expression on his face is priceless! Needless to say, the next hour and a half is enlivened by some energetic moves and vibrant costumes. The day after naturally sees me trot down to the Atiaia Spa in the hotel for a foot reflexology session. I emerge an hour later completely relaxed, my tired feet rediscovering the zing in their steps.

And as I sink into my seat on the flight back home, I cast my mind back to a helicopter ride we undertook the day before leaving. As the chopper — its blades whirring furiously — had arisen into the skies, we were given a bird’s-eye view of the entire city and its scenic surroundings. And, the vision of the Redeemer enveloped in misty clouds and the golden rays of dusk is an image that will remain forever imprinted on my mind. Ah, Rio!

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