Brazil Day 5: Copacabana, Cristo, and Clubes

This was one of the best days we had in Rio.

Mary and I got up a little early and went for a run along the beach. The cariocas take fitness pretty seriously (after all, they’ve got to look good in those tiny bathing suits), so there were plenty of other people running or biking along the beach. The one surprising thing was that everyone seems to wear much more clothing while exercising – we just ran in shorts and a sports bra, but we saw most women wearing shirts and even leggings, and there weren’t too many shirtless men either. It’s always interesting when there’s a contrast between what people wear on the beach and what they wear around the beach. (In Spain, it’s standard procedure to topless at the beach, but if you walk home with just a towel around your waist rather than being completely covered up, you will get stares!)

We started at the beach; we were anxious to compare Copacabana to Ipanema. Both areas have been immortalized in familiar songs, but although they’re adjacent to each other, they have some significant differences. Ipanema is a little more upscale both in terms of the people on the beach and the area around the beach; all of the fancy shopping that we saw in Rio was in Ipanema. In constrast, Copacabana is more like the Virginia Beach of the Zona Sul – it’s got a lot of people and feels a little seedy at times because its business is pretty much just the beach. We didn’t see quite as many beautiful people or as many coconuts, but we weren’t disappointed – there were still plenty of toned, mostly naked people to admire and far more stands offering alcohol. Copacabana is known for its food stands along the boardwalk; there’s one about every 25 yards, and they are like mini restaurants despite their size; many have terraces for people to sit while they eat or drink.

We saw a few other interesting things as well. There was a light-up sign with recommendations for what SPF to wear depending on your skin tone – two groups got 15; two got 30. (Even with my darker complexion, I had to go with 30 – the sun is very, very strong down there.) We also enjoyed Copacabana’s way of dealing with the hot sand: hoses at various points along the beach stretched from the sidewalk across the sand and created a path of wet sand that wouldn’t burn your feet – ingenious! I must say I’m amazed I haven’t seen that anywhere else. The hose just had tiny holes in it so that there was a fine mist every few feet.

We discovered that the surf at Copacabana is not quite as rough, which was a nice change. The beach is on a different angle, so the waves aren’t as large (not that we didn’t still need to be cautious and time our entrance and exit carefully!). There were more families at Copacabana, and that’s probably due to the fact that the water was just less treacherous.

The weather forecast had promised a cloudless afternoon after 3:00, so we had made plans to go up the Corcovado mountain to see Cristo Redentor around that time. This required our first use of Rio’s very efficient public transportation system. A huge number of bus lines go through Copacabana; there are so many that there are three different sets of stops just so that there isn’t backup on the streets from all the buses stopping one place. We didn’t immediately figure this out; every bus stop has all the lines listed, but the lines are grouped together and matched to particular stops. The ever-friendly cariocas helped us to figure this out, and we were on bus #583 before too long.

About 40 minutes later, we reached the end of the line and got out at the base of Corcovado. Unfortunately, the clouds hadn’t yet dissipated (or in fact, hadn’t existed UNTIL the afternoon), so we weren’t sure if it was worth it to go up the mountain. Employees at the cog train station said they doubted we would be able to see anything, but we decided to give it a try. I was convinced that our buddy Cristo would reward our patience if we were just willing to stick things out!

The cog train took us up the mountain in about 30 minutes. We had a couple quick glimpses of the city below before we got above the clouds, but mostly we just passed through dense green foliage. Once at the top, we climbed a set of stairs and suddenly found ourselves about two stories below Cristo’s feet.

Cristo Redentor truly is a stunning sight, no matter what the weather – it’s no wonder that Cristo has become the symbol of Rio; I’ve been back in Washington, D.C. for nine hours now and already miss the presence of that statue.

As we anticipated, it was totally cloudy at the top of the mountain. We could see Cristo, but we wouldn’t have known there was anything below at all because the clouds were so dense. Nonetheless, we decided to wait. Mary and I plopped down on the ground along with some others and just stared at Cristo for a while. Occasionally, the wind would blow enough to clear a little space in the clouds above Cristo, and when that happened, people would start to cheer. You’ll see from my pictures that it really had quite a celestial effect!

Things finally started to clear up about an hour after we got up there. We stood at the railing looking down at the city for a while, and the clouds would disperse for maybe two minutes at a time before closing in again. Sometimes the clouds covered Cristo as well; I took video of Him disappearing at one point. (Who knew He’d be such a tease?!) Ultimately, we were able to get pictures of the city, though they weren’t quite as clear or panoramic as we’d hoped.

Wednesday evening, otherwise known as attempt #3 to experience Rio nightlife, started at a Tex-Mex place a few blocks away that supposedly had a good dance scene. We arrived to find no dancing going on, but we figured we might as well get a beer at and watch people pass by. Mary inquired about where we might be able to find some dancing and got the name of another club within walking distance. On the way there we stopped at what we think might be the Rio equivalent of Señor Frog’s; it’s called the Mud Bug and seems to cater to a 20-something crowd looking to drink and watch soccer. We ordered caipirinhas and watched a guy flirting (and ultimately making out) with a girl instead; Brazilians have got good game.

I was pretty sleepy at the Mud Bug, but when we got to the recommended club, I snapped back to attention. We entered to find great music playing and a band setting up to play live samba, and the cheap drinks we ordered proved to have about twice the necessary amount of alcohol for the price, so we were immediately well pleased. We were the only non-locals there, which was very exciting! We stood along the edge of the sunken dance floor for a little while like bait before some guys finally decided to approach us.

The first group of three guys seemed to have discussed beforehand something to the effect of “those girls are American; let’s divide and conquer!” They came over together and each talked to one of us. My guy was very nice and spoke a little bit of English, but it was easier to stick with the Portuguese. I didn’t understand all of what he said, and there were more than a few moments of me laughing and saying “não entendo!” (“I don’t understand!”), but we had a lot of fun.

Later on we bumped into a different group of guys; I had a much more amusing conversation with the friend I made from this group. He spoke no English, but I was able to understand his Portuguese better than the other guy’s, so we were able to communicate fairly well. He told me that I looked Brazilian but that my friends didn’t, although he added that the way I danced was more American. Apparently in Brazil, they tend to move more slowly to music, even if it’s faster. At the time he made that comment the DJ was playing Brazilian music, so I watched and imitated him; a few minutes later I got to turn the tables when the DJ switched over to some American music, at which point he watched and imitated me.

Time flies when you’re having fun, and before we knew it, it was 4:45 and time to go! The last song was, from what I could tell, the Brazilian equivalent of the Macarena, and after some sleuthing, I found it: A Liga da Justiça by Leve Noiz! I’m going to keep practicing. It was an epic evening!

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