Wednesday 15 March 2017

From on board Ponant Le Soleal: We go to Rio

I went to Rio, Rio de Janeiro 

Ponant 'In the heart of Brazil' aboard Le Soleal 8-17 March, 2017


I needed have bothered to set my alarm as the fog horn outside my window more than adequately got my attention.

The scene from my little private balcony was one of thick mist blanketing a mirror-still ocean. Le Soleal crept along at a sea snail's pace in the late evening gloom as we approached the entrance to one of the world's most famous harbours, Rio de Janeiro. By the time we'd tied up around midnight, the fog had lifted somewhat and Le Soleal was neatly berthed at the downtown pier.

Rio was an even bigger surprise to the Portuguese fleet sailing for India in 1500 when the towering monoliths of the famous 400m Sugar Loaf and 710m Corcovado greeted their tiny caravels in Guanabara Bay.

As any first-timer should, I'm making a beeline for these twin icons of Brazil and on this quiet, steamy Sunday it looks like we may just avoid the notorious tourist crush known to overwhelm these sites.

Many movie fans will recall Roger Moore as James Bond tackling the fearsome evil giant, Jaws, on the cable car to the peak in Moonraker. Fortunately, no such ordeal faced me as our group shuffled into the newest (third) variant of the Sugar Loaf cable car, installed in the last decade and able to take 70 tightly packed sightseers to the summit in just three minutes. Despite some lingering smog on this bright windless day, the view across the bay is quite spectacular and big Jesus on the Corcovado yonder rises imperiously through the wispy clouds in an oft-repeated 'second coming' to embrace His city.

Our coach winds through the surprisingly empty Sunday streets and parks of the city, past a mixture of architectural styles ranging from the ornate late Renaissance to the ubiquitous modern and monotonous glass and tile monuments displacing all else in so many cities of the world. The landmark cathedral is a curious amalgam of styles, looking something like a giant Mercury space capsule or Star Wars citadel from one of their mythical worlds.

I now have an appointment with Christ the Redeemer atop the adjacent Corcovado mountain. His benevolent 30m likeness was installed in 1931 and has defined the city ever since. We meter on to the electric train which rides almost to the 700m summit where, once alighted, we can ascend the final holy escalator to gaze up at Him from his feet. His pose makes me wonder whether He his welcoming and blessing the assembled masses, or about to take a swan dive. Either way, it's a moving experience enjoying the view while trying not to get impaled on a selfie stick.

Our final salute to this magnificent city is a swing-by of the famous beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana where the multitudinous brown bottoms hang out along the seemingly endless stretch of sand.

My début visit to Rio dispelled several preconceived notions of this city and perhaps it was this quiet balmy Sunday, but there was never a feeling of being crowded or unsafe, the streets were spotless compared to the more familiar pavements of Sydney, and the spectacular setting was every bit as eye-popping as the postcards portray. Of course, things would be wildly different during one of the many festivals or sporting events, but for now, I'm content with a placid experience. I'll let the likes of Peter Allen and Carmen Miranda carry that torch.

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