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February 17, 2012
Day -1: Rio de Janeiro: Christ the Redeemer

Gail and Russell pose in front of a partly obscured Christ the Redeemer

Friday, February 17, was our first and only full day in Rio. We decided to be adventurous. We would go ahead and take the small train up Corcovado Mountain to view Rio’s most famous landmark – the statue of “Christ the Redeemer.” Even more adventurous, we would take public transit to do so.

After complimentary breakfast at the hotel, at 10:00 am we walked a block away from the beach to Av. Nossa Senhora de Copacabana, per the concierge’s instructions. There, we caught bus 583 which would take us all the way to Cosme Velho and the train station.

Rio’s public buses are fascinating. On board, in addition to the driver, there is a cashier who sits on a stool next to a turnstile. Once you pay your R$2.85, you are allowed past the turnstile to take your seat. We had a leisurely ride, other than horrible traffic due to various bottlenecks. We finally reached Cosme Velho at 11:00, where everyone was unceremoniously told (in Portugese) to get off the bus.

The train station was an absolute zoo of tourists. We navigated our way through the gauntlet of tour salesmen and purchased two tickets to the train, the Trem de Corcovado. It wasn’t until after we paid that we realized that the tickets we had purchased – for the next available train – were for 1:40 pm.

We had more than two-and-a-half hours to kill. Unfortunately, Cosme Velho is located next to nothing else of interest. We know this because we walked several blocks in every direction and discovered nothing else of interest.

We finally rested ourselves in the church across the street, a large dome dedicated to St. Jude. We marveled at the stained-glass windows, Gail bought an angel figurine for her collection, and we visited the garden in the back where hundreds of people have put up personalized signs of gratitude to St. Jude.

The Church of St. Jude, where we spent much of the morning

In back of the church, where hundreds of people have placed placards (they look like small license plates) honoring St. Jude

It was noon, and we still had time to kill. We started seeing little children all dressed up in costumes, being walked by adults (parents or nannies). It was obviously Carnaval day at school. We followed the little crowds to see what the schools looked like.

Still more time to kill. We went back to the station, where Gail bought some frozen yogurt that would serve as lunch. We chatted with a gentleman visiting from India who talked about how much he detested U.S. tourists, apologized to us because we were from the U.S., then proceeded to talk more about how much he detested U.S. tourists.

The inside of the train station at Cosme Velho

We finally got in the train line at 1:20. A tour guide offered to trade us our tickets for the 1:20 train. We were happy to oblige.

The Trem de Corcovado is a small, three-car red train that travels up a steep incline on a geared track. For 20 minutes, it passes through lush rainforest before reaching the 125-foot peak of Mount Corcovado. Actually, it stops short of the peak, and you have to take about four flights of stairs to get to the viewing platforms at the foot of the statue.

A little red train takes you to the top of Corcovado Mountain and the statue of Christ the Redeemer

Despite Gail’s bad ankle, we took the stairs to the top and discovered that everything was fogged in, including the 125-foot high concrete statue of Christ the Redeemer. Fortunately, after a few minutes the sky cleared. Unfortunately, after another few minutes everything fogged up again.

One of the vista points at the top of Corcovado Mountain. The placard describes all of the wonderful things you are supposed to see. The actual view says otherwise.

The crowd at the top was ridiculous. Everyone was nice, but it was literally wall-to-wall people throughout the viewing platforms. Everyone has the original idea of posing in front of the statue with their arms outstretched. One fellow did a handstand for his photo, accidentally kicking Russell in the process.

We stayed long enough to take several panoramic photos, then got into yet another line for the train back down the mountain. Luckily, we found a set of escalators so we didn’t have to take all the stairs again. We were also entertained by a small animal on one of the rooftops – Gail thinks it was a porcupine.

One of the panoramas we snapped during an intermittent patch of clear sky

Gail thinks this little fellow was a porcupine

Back at the Corcovado train station, we found bus 584 to return to the hotel. Unlike the previous bus, this one had yet another long line for a bus that was already full. Gail was concerned about the state of her ankle if she had to stand, but we tried to board anyway. Not only did we make it aboard, but they kept stuffing more and more people into that bus.

We ended up standing for most of the long ride back. At every bus stop more people got on – and no one got off. There were people entering through the exit because the entrance turnstile was backed up. There were people standing in the exit wells. At one point, someone finally got off – one man.

Fortunately, by the time we got off, we had both gotten seats. Unfortunately, the cashier had us disembark a good ten-minute walk away from the hotel (we had asked for Poste Cinco – the beach marker closest to our hotel). When we finally got back, Gail had to rest her ankle for awhile.

After another dinner at an outdoor tourist restaurant (spaghetti this time), the evening plans called for us to attend a Carnaval street party. Through the Cruise Critic website, Gail had arranged to meet various other cruise people at various hotels along the way, before finally joining a 7:00 street party at the far end of Copacabana Beach.

We never found the people we were supposed to meet up with at the first hotel, but we were joined by Greg and Diana from our own hotel. After failing to find anyone at the second hotel either, we were amazed to bump into two familiar couples in the middle of the street party.

The crowd at the Carnaval street party

The party was good fun. A motor-driven wagon (much like a parade float) had several Carnaval dancing girls inside. On the roof, a live band played dance music. Meanwhile, hundreds of people formed a spontaneous parade that danced its way through the streets. People wore costumes, set off noisemakers, sprayed confetti, hugged each other, danced with each other, and basically celebrated being alive.

While dancers entertained below…

… a band entertained above

After losing everyone but Greg and Diana, we started the long walk back. Gail led us all on one last walk on the beach to find shells, getting everyone except Russell drenched in the process. We finally made it back to our hotel at 10:00 pm.

Tomorrow we have a 10:00 am shuttle to the cruise pier. This gives us just enough time to have breakfast, which means we had to do all of our packing tonight. But we spent a happy, eventful and memorable day today. Tomorrow we will begin our actual cruise.

As Gail remarked in the elevator, “I’m sad to be leaving this place, but excited at what lies ahead.”

The gang from Cruise Critic: Gail, Greg, Bernie, Vickie (Bernie’s wife), Al, Diana (Greg’s wife) and Tommie (Al’s wife). The guy on the other side of Gail is a random Brazilian who wanted to be in the picture.


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