Rio de Janeiro! Not sure if you know, but we’ve been saying it wrong all these years (thanks Peter Allan) – the Rio is pronounced Heo but when spoken by a local it is all run together so it sounds like they just say ‘deyjanerio’ or ‘hedjanerio’ – the ‘e’ sounding like ‘ey’. Literally translates to River of January, because when the Portuguese arrived in 1501 they thought that the bay was a river and it was January at the time – now that is as literal as you can get. Boy were they wrong though; Probably not about the January thing, we’ll have to trust them on that, but Guanabara Bay (the bosom of the sea) is a vast and beautiful oceanic bay (not a river) containing more than 130 islands plopped here and there and bordered by several cities including Rio.
Skirting the edges of town as we drove to our accommodation in Copacabana, we caught glimpses of the vibrant scenery mixed with old and new buildings that huddled in together and proudly wore colourful graffiti and murals that depicted the spirit of the 6.5 million people that call this place home and are renown for the spectacle of Carnivale. To complete the scene, massive mountains and hills contained the sprawl – leaning over us as if they had a secret to tell once they were sure we were worthy.
Unlike Ipanema, Copacabana is a man-made beach, the wide stretch of sand being reclaimed from the sea. A generous avenue runs parallel to the beach with small cafes and restaurants running street-side and multi-story hotels (mostly) and apartments line the street opposite. The community here is a very social one – many volley-ball nets line the beach and even in the early evening people can be seen playing. During the day small groups of people, old and leathery and young and beautiful, are seen playing informal games of kick-ball or other games all along the sand and they seemingly invite anyone to join in. The beach itself was fairly quiet as we arrived but during the day it is a bustle with locals and vendors for everything you would need from beach chair and umbrella rental to cocktails to the usual cheaply made ‘crap’ that is sold on streets in everywheretown. When I peek out of our hotel at sunrise the beach is abandoned – these are a relaxed, late-rising people. We walked out again in the height of the morning and the sidewalk was thronging with walkers, runners and others dressed in everything from next-to-nothing to a full space-suited astronaut dinking an alien on his beach cruiser.
We walked the length of the beach one way on the sidewalk, the other way on the sand. Cheek-covering bikinis are a rarity, women with generous derrières display them in all their glory but there is little harassment or self-consciousness, at least from what I could see. It was certainly missing the prudish hang-up found all over anglicised scenes. This beach crowd is really easy going – I like the vibe! Even the street hawkers don’t harass you after checking if you need their service.
The most intriguing site however was to be found skyward. Magnificent Frigatebirds and black vultures continuously circling above. Over the ocean the Frigatebird is awesome to behold, with a wingspan of up to two and half metres and their deeply forked tail manoeuvring effortlessly on the draft; it’s thought that they spend most of their time ‘on the wing’ navigating updrafts and seaside opportunities. Then over the buildings and the mountains behind them, the ominous spiral of black vultures riding the thermals reminds of the flying monkey scene in the Wizard of Oz. You first see a few but then as your eyes adjust to the depth of the sky there are more and more – seemingly dozens of them enacting some sort of witches ritual around the spreadeagle arms of Christ.
After our morning walk there was just enough time for a chill on the pool deck of the Winsor California where we stayed the night. A sneaky peak at the looming figure of Jesus behind us before we took a car (not bullet proof this time) to the port to join our expedition ship. We have one day of Rio ahead of us (which is by no means enough) before we set sail for our next port.
An overseas trip in 2022! Unbelievable! More unbelievable is when this trip to Antarctica was proposed to me way back in 2019 BC, I said SURE!! Thinking the day would never come and secretly dreading the idea of sailing the Drake Crossing ‘rarely the Drake Lake, mostly the Drake Shake’. I thought, unlike most of the world, that COVID would be my saviour but ney…. Here we are in Rio de Janeiro, not a maraca in sight, about to board our ship – the Viking Octanis that will take us country hopping down the coast of South America before falling off into the bottom of the world. And, as is often the case, now that were are here my dread is replaced with excitement (well sort of).
A moment for a bit of back story – the reason for the season if you will. Nat’s dad was an avid traveller and left the earth back in 2016. He’d tried to get to Antarctica twice before he died and both times was stopped by a bout of cancer which eventually took his life before he could make the trek. Antarctica was the last continent on earth that he had yet to set foot on and so with him neatly packed into our luggage we’re taking him with us on this great voyage. Now this does remind one of some Weekend at Bernie type hijinks and I must admit to wondering what would happen when we arrived in Brazil with a big plastic brick of a powdery substance. I was reassured as we boarded our connecting flight in Santiago, the bag was pulled aside in customs (as you’d expect) to enquire what the big brick of powdery substance was (dumbest criminals in history?). The poor young customs lad opened the bag and on reading the label that roughly translates into ‘remains of a person’, quickly let go of the brick with shock and an apology at his clumsiness. It was just a little bit amusing. With old mate safely tucked away in our cabin baggage, we were on our way to the biggest ear-worm in history, Copacabana!!
We arrived in Brazil around 6pm in the evening and cleared the passport check. There were two transport booking desks inside the airport – one busy line, one not. We took the not-busy line knowing we’d be paying a premium but after 21-odd hours compressed into a plane we didn’t care. Having booked ourselves the bullet proof vehicle chauffeured transport, we firstly thought wtf with the armoured transport? And we were ushered by our host to collect our bags before being escorted out a back-door staff entrance at the airport and into our waiting vehicle. I feel as if we might have missed part of the exit process but I wasn’t going to complain. I highly recommend armoured transport if only for secret door escape plan.
At some stage in the not too distant past, I flippantly agreed to a trip to Antartica thinking that the day would never come, we'd cancel it, a global pandemic would shut down the world and stop all travel. Well, three years and one global pandemic later - and we're about to leave for Antartica, on our original planned date. Who'd have thunk it. Now where did I put the good sea-sick pills.