It’s fair to say that our visit to Rio started off rather stressful. We were due to dock at around 8am, and stay in port until 6pm. However, as we have been repeatedly warned, the schedule is no more than a notional representation of what may happen. In actual fact we docked at 5am but were not allowed off until after breakfast, when they announced we needed to be back on board by 12 noon!
So much for my idea of getting the metro up to Botafogo, walk the couple of Km to sugar loaf, take a leisurely trip up to the top, then finding a nice place somewhere near the beach and hit the caipirinhas.
The 3 older couples had organized a 6-hour guided tour which was now called into question. The guy who turned up didn’t want to reduce his price for less time so there was much confusion as everyone blamed everyone else. I tried to stay out of it but as the only Portuguese speaker he seemed to think I had organized it, when I (and the Germans) had been quite specific we wanted nothing to do with a guided tour. We had prepared for the day by getting currency in Vitoria, sim cards for our phones, downloading offline google maps and planning our route.
The others, having planned on a guided tour, had not prepared at all. However, when the negotiations with the tour guide fell apart, they all decided to get on the port shuttle bus that would take us to the exit from the port. I’m not sure at this stage if they all understood this was not the tour bus, there seemed to be a lot of drama, especially as one couple speak no English at all. Anyway, the tour guide followed them onto the bus and carried on trying to convince them to go with him, much to the frustration of the poor port workers needing to get to a meeting.
One of the cadets from the ship then got involved, telling them Rio was dangerous and they didn’t have money or know where they were going or how to get back. One couple gave up and went back to the boat in a huff. The others followed us out to the taxis. I tried to offer to negotiate with the taxi driver for them, so that at least they wouldn’t get ripped off, but they hadn’t decided where they were going yet, and needed to change money first (this was not the area to do that) and we only had 3 and a half hours, so I eventually left them to it.
The Germans (who have confirmed they don’t mind my using their names, so Nicki and Moe) and us jumped in a taxi, whose driver offered us sweets and lots of blather in the hope we would not notice he hadn’t zeroed the meter. Didn’t work and he ended up stopping on the outside lane of the highway to reset it after I insisted. The taxi to Urca, where sugarloaf is, took about 20 minutes and 10 USD – a bargain split four ways given that the guided tour guy had wanted 65 euros each!
We caught the cable car up to the middle station – it was hot and humid and ‘jungly’ with amazing views from all sides.
Nicki was disappointed not to see monkeys. I imagine they ‘discourage’ them as this is one of Rio’s main tourist sites.
After a pleasant wander round (and coming across this enormous fella..
…..we jumped on the second cable car that goes up to the top. It was definitely worth it, with stunning views all round, from Copacabana on one side to the city centre and (just visible in the distance) the G for Grimaldi on the funnel of the Grande Amburgo. We could also just make out the statue of Christ over on Corcovado.
Once we’d seen all there was to see and bought the obligatory magnet (Lauren is collecting one per country) we took the cable car down and bumped into the other four passengers who had managed to massively overpay for their taxi and then not go up the mountain because they wouldn’t accept euros. They seemed happy enough though, drinking some beers and enjoying the view from below.
Leaving Lauren with the others in the shade at the cafe, I set off looking for phone credit, which proved to be quite a challenge. It was incredibly hot and humid, and we had less than an hour before we needed to be back on board.
I walked very fast for about 20 minutes before coming across a tabacaria that sold credit. The old guy running the place wasn’t the fastest, and felt the need to break off what he was doing and greet everyone who went past. This would be charming if I hadn’t left my child 20 minutes yomp away and needed to race back to get on board on time.
Mobile phones in Brazil, as least for foreigners, are a pain. They won’t accept registration without a tax number, you can’t buy credit in a shop with a card, online or through the phone app they won’t accept foreign cards to top up, and they bombard you with meaningless promotions and competitions the whole time. I have received about 30 etxt messages in the last three days from the mobile company, all rubbish.
First the guy needed my phone number, which he noted down five times incorrectly, even though he was simply copying it off the screen, then he had to look up what to do because it was registered in a different state, then he had to input something into a machine. When I eventually got a text message saying I’d topped up, he couldn’t tell me how to convert that into data but by this stage I was ready to give up. I’ve no idea how much data I have or when it will run out.
I raced back to the café, we grabbed some lunch to takeaway (Lebanese, yay!) and jumped in a taxi back. We made it back to the ship with 5 minutes to spare!!!!
After a lunch of hummus, spinach kibbe, Lebanese salad and chicken, Lauren retreated to the cabin to watch Minions 3 while I spent the afternoon up on deck enjoying the sight as we pulled out of Rio.
It’s a bonkers city, with all the high rises squashed into the flat bits between the mountains and the sea, then the colourful favelas stretching up the valleys and mountainsides. Helicopters buzz around constantly, the sea is a thoroughfare for everything from tiny wooden row boats to enormous cargo ships, and the domestic airport built out on the edge of the bay is a hive of activity as planes zip at an angle between the mountains then land on what looks like a tiny strip hovering over the sea.
Having entered the bay under a large road bridge, we assumed we would exit the same way, but in actual fact we exited right past the back of sugarloaf. Once we were past sugarloaf we had a great view of Copacabana before making our way past various islands and heading south towards Santos, only a few hours away and the biggest port in South America.