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Travel - Rio de Janiero

Travel - Rio de Janiero

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Published by Barry Pollack

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Published by: Barry Pollack on Oct 10, 2010
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Barry Pollack’s “Going Places”Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
After driving from seashore to a lush forestedmountaintop, I trekked a little further uphill to where aclearing led to a cliff. Apprehensively, I looked out overit at grand vistas of a great city below with miles uponmiles of white sand beaches, a turquoise sea, and rows ofbeachfront high-rise apartments. My instructor strapped meinto a body harness and hooked me up to his hang glider. Hewatched the wind rustle in the trees. My heart pounded withadrenalin. When the wind was just right, he counted, “one,two, three.” And then, together, we ran, and in just a fewsteps the earth below our feet was gone. We hung togetherunder what seemed a flimsy nylon wing. But it flew and Iwas still alive. Alive and breathlessly gazing out at thesights below. And so began my adventure in and over thecity of
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Brazil is a nation of about 180 million. It is largerthan the continental United States and its size andpopulation dwarf the rest of the nations in South America.It is the only nation in the Americas to speak Portuguese.Brasilia is its capital. The Amazon is its heart. Sao Paulois its largest city and business center. And Rio deJaneiro, a city of 10 million inhabitants known as
carioca
,is the soul of the country, representing its
joie de vivre.
But while Rio can seem like paradise, it is also paradiselost. The city is visually seductive, set in one of themost beautiful locales in the world, between dramatic peaksand forests and expansive beaches along the Atlantic Ocean.But there is great disparity between the wealthy, who livein grand beachfront high-rises, and the poor, who live in a
 
scattering of hillside shanty towns. Because of thateconomic disparity, most every home and apartment in Rio isfenced. Many have prominent security guards. And while thecity looks glorious from on high, from ground level, themetropolis clearly needs a serious overhaul - from paint toplaster, to a massive clean up of graffiti run amuck.While there are many deluxe hotels closer to Rio’sfamous beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, we stayed at the
Sheraton Rio Hotel and Towers (800-325-3535)
, just on theoutskirts of the citys main beaches. Tucked into apicturesque cove, it’s the only Rio hotel with its ownprivate beach. The Sheraton is a modern twenty-storybuilding with 559 guest rooms, all with superb ocean views.Our room was comfortable with a marbled bath, and a balconywith a vista of the arch of Ipanema Beach. The hotel has anexpansive but cozy lobby, an exercise room, saunas, tenniscourts, three pools overlooking the pounding surf, and aneasy access stairwell down to the beach below. Publishedstandard rates run from $167/night including tax but realcosts are more difficult to decipher since most travelersstay as part of packages that include sightseeing andexcursions.To see the sights of the city, yellow taxis areplentiful and easy to hail. But while they’re metered, besure you demand that the driver throw the meter as opposedto giving you some inflated fixed price to yourdestination. Most drivers do not speak English so it’s bestto have your hotel write down your destination before youdepart. There are all sorts of tours to the citysattractions – bus tours, semi-private van tours, and toursby private car. If you choose a private tour, which for twoor more people can be more convenient and less expensive
 
than a bus tour, make sure that your driver is a “licensedand trained” tour guide and not some glorified, semi-English speaking taxi-driver. I was disappointed that theSheraton didn’t enforce that policy on the car tour serviceit provides in its lobby. If you’re taking a tour, you wantto learn about the destination and not simply be taken toit.Plan to spend at least a day walking the great beachesof Rio and soaking up the life of the
carioca
. While therewere plenty of natives and tourists traipsing thedistinctive black and white swirl mosaic beachfrontpathways, sadly, there were not the throngs of thongs thatI expected to see. There were more men in speedos thanwomen in bikinis. There are refreshment stands every fewhundred feet along the beach where you can stop and sipfrom a cold coconut or have a beer. Artisans and sandsculptors display their handiwork along the sidewalks. Andmost interesting are the myriad of beach volleyball gamesplayed soccer style.At the point separating
Ipanema
from
Copacabana Beach
is
Copacabana Fort
. It was built in the era of World War Iwith a massive concrete bunker and great gun turrets facingout to the sea. There’s also a museum of Brazilian historyhere. This tiny peninsula is a wonderful place to relax andstop for lunch with great views of Copacabana Beach andSugarloaf Mountain.No trip to Rio is complete without experiencing thepanoramas from its famous mountaintops.
Corcovado
is thesite of
Cristo Redentor
or Christ the Redeemer, the famous700-ton concrete icon that seemingly embraces the city withits arms. It can be reached by a cogwheel train or awinding road by car. The city’s other mountaintop highlight

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