Friday 22nd January
Day 18 - a third of the way through our trip.
Up at 6.30 to see the sun rise and the sail into Rio de Janeiro. Cloudy and raining gently. The peaks all around us were covered in cloud although we could just about see Sugarloaf Mountain. There were only a few people - the usual ones - on the front deck when I arrived (Martin was one of the first despite still not feeling 100% and now the one with a cold) but it soon filled up with more people than we'd ever seen before up there. On the way to the port we passed an airport on the edge of the sea and a plane came in low over the ship. There were a couple of grey military ships and then a submarine went past us!
We had breakfast and then waited for our excursion to be called at 8.15. A full day tour of Rio and a Samba show in the evening. After boarding the coach we were driven through some slow traffic in what seemed like a derelict area around the port. They were building a small railway/tram line to go from the port into the city for the Olympics. Once free of that we went along the coast past Guanabara Bay and the Parque do Flamengo - where they close the road on Sunday's so everyone can enjoy the area. The Flamengo district is named after the Flemmish people who settled in the area. Then we went along the The rain was getting heavier and so photos out of the coach window aren't the best! As usual we had a local guide to give us a commentary as we were going along. Rio de Janeiro means River of January and was named by the Portugese who discovered it and settled here. They thought the harbour was the mouth of a big river because of its shape, but there is no river!
We arrived at the Corcovado Mountain and were given our tickets for the 20 minute cog train ride up the mountain to see the 30m/99ft high Christ the Redeemer Statue that dominates the pictures of Rio. Luckily the train was running, as we had been warned sometime it may be closed, and then we would have been taken up in minibuses on the winding road. It was still raining and the peaks covered in mist so we didn't get the views from the train that were normally seen on a clear day through the gaps in the rainforest up the side of the mountain. We arrived at the station but there were still a several flights of stone steps up to the statue, although there were elevators (and queues) for those who didn't want to/couldn't walk up. I took a misty headless photo of the statue from there in case that was the best we were going to see! At the top the viewing platforms were full of people waiting for the clouds and mist to clear so we could see the statue. When it did, a cheer went up and all cameras were pointed and clicked before it disappeared again! I took a photo of the info board that named all the landmarks that you could see from the viewing platform as we couldn't see anything at all of the view - we were just looking into a bank of cloud! (In the waiting area for the train there was a big screen scrolling through the views and other pictures of the city, so I took a few shots of the screen just in case we didn't see much - just as well!)
When everyone was back on the coach we were taken to a restaurant for lunch, driving past the heart shaped Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon (a watersports lake that they will use for rowing etc. in the Olympics) and an empty Copacabana beach. Our coach only filled about a third of the restaurant, but the other (3?) coaches went to different restaurants, but all had the same kind of meal. We had small bowls of warm dough balls and little cheese filled semi circle savouries on the tables when we arrived. Then we went up to a buffet for different salads, cold meats, fish, shellfish, sushi, cheeses and meat casseroles. Many had piled their plates high already, forgetting there were going to be more delivered to our table! On the tables when we got back were small bowls of chips, onion rings and plain rice. Next, servers came around with long skewers of hot meat that they placed upright, the sharp end going into a small plate with a little recess to hold it and catch the juices. They then carved off a small piece or two which you grabbed with your own pair of small tongs as they were slicing it. There were about 8 different meats including several cuts of beef/steak, chicken, lamb and also a rack of thick barbecued ribs that were cut off individually for you. I tried most of them and they were all superb in both taste and quality - no chewy grisly bits here! Fruit and iceceam for sweet, followed by a tiny cup of black frothy coffee - which although strong was very smooth and not bitter. I don't think anyone complained about the meal!
While we were in the restaurant the weather had improved and it had stopped raining. As we drove back along Copacabana Beach we could see it was starting to fill up. There were cafes, underground toilets, craft sellers, showers and exercise stations dotted along the promenade and the beach umbrellas were going up everywhere. We were on our way to Sugarloaf Mountain and fingers crossed we would be able to see the views from the top. We reached the cable car station and once again were given our individual tickets. It was a double cable car ride to the top, stopping at an intermediate station on the top of a smaller mountain called Urca. We went through several gates where the tickets were scanned before we got to the top. Each cable car held 60 passengers and was about the size of half a single decker bus without seats. The cloud was lifting and we were able to see the amazing views across different parts of the city and several beaches, although some of the peaks were still covered. There were a few shops and a cafe kiosk with a big covered area to keep out of the rain before we had to brave queues in the open air for the ride back down. It was still raining but not as hard and we sheltered under my umbrella. Umbrella and clear plastic bag type rainmac sellers around the city were making a fortune today! The queue was very long, snaking around all the shops, but moving slowly all the time. Standing in a rainy queue in 24 degC is a bit different to standing in the rain at home, somehow you don't mind as much, and you dry out quickly!
The coach took us another way back through the city and we went past the back of the huge permanent concrete stands erected for the Carnival and through less affluent parts of the city. The guide told us that the carnival floats are pushed/pulled through the streets as they are not allowed to be motor driven. They are built on the chassis of buses, and as soon as the carnival is finished they immediately start preparing for the next one. The Carnival developed from the celebrations of the end of the yearly harvest and has grown from that. Carnivals are held all over Brazil but Rio is the biggest and most famous.
Back to the ship and the first attempt to use the free wifi in the terminal building. It connected, but web pages didn't load completely. Managed to download emails and connect briefly to the Blog website, but it disconnected each time I tried to load a photo, which you have to do with each entry. Others on iPads and phones were experiencing the same issues too. We left the terminal frustrated by the lack of success with the wifi as we had to go and eat and get ready for our Samba Show Excursion.
The description in the Excursion Brochure said 'Experience a drive through Rio at night' and it was certainly an experience! There was a distinct lack of lighting anywhere and even the cars and buses were driving on just sidelights and sometimes no front lights at all! They all had rear lights though and the emphasis seemed to be that you watched what the person in front was doing with no regard for the vehicles behind because it was them who had to watch you. Lack of indicating and switching lanes on the multi-laned roads was common too. We got to the venue in one piece though and queued to get in. Inside the foyer was quite grand and we went up two flights of shiny dark marble or granite stairs. The theatre was a bit of a contrast to the entrance and looked a more like a church with a gallery - perhaps it doubled up! We went for seats around the edge so that I could stand up and take photos without annoying anyone else. We sat on wooden chairs with a small table in front of us. The next 45 minutes were taken up with the waiters coming around for drinks orders (extra cost) and the venue photographers taking pictures us on our own at the table and then another of us with a male and female dancer from the show. Later, during the show they brought round little plastic plates with our photo on it and a card presentation sleeve with the picture of us with the dancers. Although the photo of us on our own was a better photo, I went with the one of us with the dancers as that was what the evening was about.
The show was brilliant. The stage was T shaped so a walkway came out into the audience and everyone could see the costumes from all sides as they danced. The 'Folklore' show told the story (without commentary) of the first settlers' dances to the modern day version of the Samba that you would see on Strictly Come Dancing. The stage set was very basic with only a few backdrops but the dancers and the costumes were what we were there to see and of course all the costumes were very colourful. Some of the girls's costumes were very big and flamboyant and some were very tiny with lots of sequins! As well as the group dances there were all male dances which our coach guide had explained were actually fighting practice turned into dances. This was because the slaves were forbidden to fight or train for fighting so they pretended that it was a kind of dance they were practicing and slowed it down and turned it into a performance. There was also the Gaucho (South American equivalent of Cowboys) with the bolo - a rope with heavy balls on the end - that he spun around in the air and just touched the floor with as it was going around, producing a clicking sound. He had one in each hand and it made you hold your breath hoping he didn't wrap it around his neck as he swung them around his head!
We got back to the ship after midnight and saw there was another huge cruise liner, the Costa Illuminosa, berthed alongside us.
Saturday 23rd January
A free day in Rio. The weather was much better than yesterday - white clouds I the sky not grey and it wasn't raining. First we went into the terminal to try with the internet again and didn't have any more success than last time. Sent a few messages and replied to some emails but that was all I could do.
We went to the taxi agent in the terminal and he arranged a taxi out to Copacabana Beach for us. We had also asked the taxi agent for someone to pick us up at 6pm. The taxi driver didn't speak English and had been speaking into his phone a few times and texting when the traffic was slow. When we got to the very grand looking Copacabana Hotel where he dropped us off he showed us his phone - as he didn't speak English we realised he had been trying to use his phone to translate the Portuguese for 'I will pick you up here at 18.00' as that was what it said! The sun was shining and it was going to be hot. There was a small market nearby and we went to look at that first. Stalls full of sarongs, t-shirts, bikinis, crafts and Christ the Redeemer and Copacabana souvenirs. Then we walked the whole length of the promenade alongside the 2 mile beach. It was completely different to yesterday - the front of the beach was covered in umbrellas and there were thousands of people on it. There was a 2 way cycle/running path between the promenade and the road and people were cycling, running and skateboarding along it and all the exercise stations were in use. There were several different beach games being played in special areas set aside and people were in the sea too. It was a Saturday so it was going to be busy, but we had also heard it was school holidays, as this was their Summer. The surface of the promenade is famous and the symbol of Copacabana, it is paved in black and white mosaic tiles in an undulating wavy pattern that represents the waves of the sea. It was also so hot that the sand was almost too hot to walk on. We went down to the water's edge along a path across the sand that was cooled by a 'leaky hose'. These were dotted along the beach to enable you to walk from the promenade across the back of the beach where the sand was dry, to the umbrellas and chairs nearer the water. We walked along the water's edge for a bit and then back up to the promenade up a leaky hose path. There was no nude or topless sunbathing but the locals' swimwear from girls to grandmas leaves almost nothing to the imagination. At the end of Copacabana Beach we walked a few hundred metres through the town that cut across a small peninsula to Ipanema Beach which was at right angles to Copacabana. This beach wasn't as long but was similar in layout with the umbrellas etc. and a mosaic promenade. This time the mosaic was more a geometric sixties style pattern, which was apt, as there was a famous Brazilian song called 'The Girl from Ipanema' which was a hit in Britain in the sixties. We didn't walk the length of Ipanema Beach but sat down on a bench to people watch.There were quite a few armed police around but we didn't know if that was normal or whether there was a reason for it. After a while we went back to Copacabana, stopping in a couple of shops on the way where Martin bought a RIo de Janeiro t-shirt. Then we went to one of the outdoor cafes along the beach and had lunch of a burger and fries - definitely not like yesterday's lunch! The temperature was up to 30 degC according to the time/date/temperature display poles dotted along the beachfront. We had brought towels and swimwear with us but as it was so hot and we were walking slowly and enjoying the scenery we didn't really have time to swim. Another bigger market had set up in the time we had walked to Ipanema so we walked back through that and I bought a t shirt with the black and white mosaic pattern of Copacabana beach on it and a sarong with the colours of the rainbow over the top of the mosaic pattern. Martin bought two more t-shirts. Most things were reasonably cheap. We met the taxi at 6pm and were driven back through the city to the ship. The taxi went a different route than the coach had been the previous day and we saw more of the smaller roads where the coach couldn't go maybe. The taxi driver pointed out a couple of prominent buildings and also stopped at the edge of the Lagoon where there was a nice view of Sugarloaf Mountain and he wound down the window for me to take a photo. The Mountain is called Sugarloaf because it is the same shape as the mould used to shape big cakes or loaves of raw cane sugar into for export in the olden days. Their modern Cathedral is also a similar shape - a cone with the top cut off - and seats 20 thousand people.
After dinner on the ship it was back out to the terminal to try the wifi again before we left Rio. Still no joy. I had been able to connect to Facebook briefly a few times so I set up a Facebook group thinking I could post in that with a few pictures, but then I couldn't connect again!
We got back on the ship for the all aboard time of 10pm. We had been told the previous day that we would be having a Carnival Night as we sailed away from Rio. Carnival music, games, and prizes to be won. One of the prizes was for the best carnival outfit, but only a handful of people had made the effort. I had bought a brightly coloured crocheted top from one of the shops in the terminal to wear with white trousers and I was probably one of the most colourfully dressed that night. If we had been given notice with our pre-sailing pack perhaps more people would have brought something to wear with them. The winners of the Carnival Outfit were a couple who were dressed in fancy dress as a keystone cop and robber - not quite sure what that had to do with carnival and more importantly, WHY they had brought those outfits with them in their suitcases?!One person had a shell bikini top and grass skirt and another had a purple silk blouse and a mask on so they also got a prizes. I wasn't actually on deck when they gave out the prizes otherwise I'm sure I would have got one! We sailed away from Rio in the dark and could see the spotlights along Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches. Christ the Redeemer statue was floodlit with white light and looked like an angel floating high above the city. Sometimes they will change the colour of the light and the most recent change had been to pink for a breast cancer awareness month.
Rio was great, with lots of things to do - a big city with fantastic beaches.
People say/do the funniest things - Martin overheard a couple on the ship say they queued to go up to the Statue today but when they got there and saw there was a discount for over sixties and didn't have the required photo ID for the discount they didn't go up. The full adult price was 75 Reals (£12.90) and the over 60's price was 35 Reals (£6.00). They have just paid several thousand pounds to go on this cruise and they didn't want to pay an extra £12.00 to visit one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World that they would probably never see again!?
Clocks go back one hour tonight.