Published May 25, 2005

Vacation at last. After a week of PRIME activities, a day of travel, and, admittedly, a day by myself in São Paulo, it’s finally time to

Day 1: Centro

With the skies still overcast from the previous day’s rain, we decided not to hit the major sightseeing destinations and, instead, headed to Rio’s downtown, the old Centro neighborhood.

Centro is supposed to be wildly unsafe at night. However, during the daytime, it’s crawling with cops, and I felt relatively comfortable pulling out my big ol’ 35mm camera and taking some shots (to come).

Much of Rio has been knocked down in several series of attempted urban planning and rejuvenation, and it seems that each round has included uglier and uglier buildings. However, Centro has many of the oldest and most scenic buildings, and we were dropped off in a beautiful park surrounded by giant neoclassical and baroque buildings built at the end of the 19th century. Many of these were museums we were excited about seeing, but, sadly, we were greeted with big banners reading “Trabalhadores de cultura em greve” — cultural workers on strike! So, no museum access.

Instead, we walked around the scenic areas, visited a pretty park, and saw a monastery, parts of which dated from the 17th century, and the new municipal cathedral — younger than me, it’s a fantastically ugly concrete pyramid from the outside and an austere, empty-feeling space inside.

I’m not complaining, because the cathedral is very Brazilian, and a site worth seeing, and the monastery included incredible tilework and painting. However, the highlights really were the little, everyday old buildings, whose matches in other parts of town had been razed and replaced with large, borg-like concrete and metal boxes. These old buildings, stained and deteriorating from the humidity and rain, still showed the art and skill with which they were made, and, painted in yellows and reds and greens, lit up the skinny, cobblestone-paved streets whose sidewalk bars were filled with whores and sick or confused old drunks. Again, with cops on many streetcorners and even more touristy-looking folk than us, I dared to take pictures on several occasions.

Day 2: Sugarloaf and Corcovado

Since I was in Rio, I absolutely had to hit the famous tourist destinations of Sugarloaf (Pão de Azucar) and Corcovado. Both were deservedly famous and I shot a roll and a half at the two.

With today our first really clear morning since we arrived, we hit Sugarloaf first. The cable car gets you to the top in two rides, first to the top of the adjacent mountain and thence to Sugarloaf itself. The cable car was large and paneled with glass from ceiling to floor, making for incredible views — but, surprisingly, not too much vertigo for the scared-of-heights (the scariest part was getting on and off of the cars as they swayed at their moorings).

The better views were actually from the lower mountain, which had about a 300° field of view; construction and undisturbed natural area on Sugarloaf itself limited the view to about 270°. However, there were adorable monkeys on Sugarloaf (pictures coming, really!). Both mountains had large terraces at their peaks, providing wide-open spaces with the right camera anges.

Corcovado was an incredible trip too, on the way there, on the way back, and while at the base of the Christ. We got there by driving up a steep, verdant old route that climbed the hills behind Rio and deposited us right at the base of the famous cross-shaped statue. From there, we climbed a few flights of stairs to the feet of the statue (there were escalators and elevators too, but somehow it seemed sacreligious to take the easy way to Jesus).

At the top, we had an incredible 360° view of Rio; I shot a lot of film of that, and a lot of film of the birds (condors? some kind of raptor for sure!) flying around the statue. Of course, the statue — an incredible modernist work — made it into some pictures itself! While the sun had slipped low in the sky and behind the banks of clouds slowly encircling Rio, the light was beautiful and there were many incredible views. We drove down through the old, tram track-lined streets of a part of town that had once been fashionable but had slipped since the building of the Christ of Corcovado — more gorgeous architecture and views.

Between these two sites, I got very used to being high up, right next to vertiginous drops and equally breathtaking views. I may get my nerve up to go hang-gliding after all!