Weeks 85-86 – Waiting for the Sun

My friend Rodolfo met me at the airport. His friend drove us to his other friend’s house, where I’ll be staying.
Next morning I did a quick tour of the city with my reliable Brompton. Although, to tell the truth, it wasn’t so quick: it took 3 ½ hours. I passed by Sugarloaf mountain, saw Christ the Redeemer from afar, rode along Copacabana an Ipanema beaches, climbed to Vista Chinesa. I finished the day watching the show Unicirco, where Rodolfo is the head coach.

For the following day I was planning to go to Grumari beach, about 60 km from the place I was staying. However, the weather worsened, it was cloudy and cooler. As an alternative I went to Christ the Redeemer, cycling all the way up. After 20km of continuous assent I reached it just before it got covered with fog and clouds. I even got to the less popular and crowded Miranda Santa Marta, with nice view nonetheless. On the way out I got caught by heavy rain and rode like that for the next couple of hours. Needless to say I was drenched.

When I was performing at La Nouba there were a few Brazilian artists, it happened that one of them, Katia, came to visit her family while I was in Rio. So, we met up at a famous establishment Confeitaria Colombo and she showed me the Selarón Steps, a renown attraction.

Rodolfo took me on tour of a favéla, a glamorous one, with rooftop restaurants and even a hotel. We were whisked all the way up through winding roads by moto taxi. We had lunch with an incredible view of the city. My stereotypical vision of favélas clashed with the reality. Maybe people living there are just as happy as anyone else. We survived a walk down, we weren’t robbed or even harassed. Although at one point I was surprised seeing a Kalashnikov in a guy’s hands. I almost asked to take a picture with it but Rodolfo didn’t think it was a good idea.

With a slightly better forecast I decided to check out faraway beaches. Trying to save a bit of time and energy I attempted to use subway to get to nearest bike pathway but was turned away by a guard. I guess Rio is not as Brompton-friendly as other places. Oh well, what’s extra 9 km in the big scheme of things… I cycled, passing through Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, Pepino, Pepe, Réserva, Macumba, Prainha (surfers favorite), and finally arrived at Grumari Beach. Most of it was on a bike pathway built for the 2016 Olympics. A small part of it collapsed and instead of fixing it the government just blocked it with concrete slabs. Without any alternative, people still use it but it became a steeplechase. At the beach, the skies were grey, the waves were high and nobody was in the water, except surfers. I didn’t brave to go in either. So, my 60 km quest for a better beach didn’t come to fruition. And I still had to go back.

When I reached Ipanema I stopped to get Açaí ice cream. I ordered big bowl as a reward but was given huge one, even for my appetite. Then around Copacabana I got distracted looking at a sand sculpture and cycled too close to a bordure. Instead of just breaking I tried to push it away with my foot but my speed was too high and I had a spectacular fall – resulting, miraculously, in only minor bruises. The roads in Rio are like washboard, cycling on them for the last few days made my front wheel get loose. Luckily, I realized it before it fell off.

The next day turned out to be a sunny one. I used it to go to Sugarloaf Mountain to get a clear view of the city. After two cable car rides I disembarked on the top it. I was even allowed to bring my bike with me so I didn’t have to risk locking it on the streets. From there you get a 360° view of the surroundings and it’s quite impressive. I stayed a good half hour enjoying the spectacular views. For the rest of the afternoon I cycled along the beaches but haven’t actually enjoyed the beach because I didn’t come prepared, thanks to the uncertain weather forecast.

Undeterred, I decided to get some sun on the following day: I would not bring any cameras or valuables (Rio is notorious for petty crimes), bring a swimsuit, towel, sunscreen and would enjoy one of the famous beaches. However, I opened my eyes to the sound of rain coming down hard on the roof. It seems Rio’s weather was playing cat and mouse with me. I only have two days left here, it will be a shame not to spent a few hours on the white sand of Copacabana or Ipanema.
After a dinner in Santa Teresa neighborhood Rodolfo and I were going down the hills on a quiet street when a motorcyclist pass us then slowed down, turned around and stopped a few feet from me. I didn’t pay any attention to it but Rodolfo quickly flagged a taxi and told me to get in; I was surprised, I wanted to continue to stroll down but Rodolfo just said: “Get in!”. In the taxi he explained the guy looked suspicious, he may have wanted to mug us – this is the reality here.
One day we went to Churrascaria, a Brazilian steakhouse. Wow, I’ve never eaten so much meat, even in Argentina. The servers kept on coming with different types of meat; it took me a while to realize that a token on the table is to let them know if you want more or not – one side was green (bring me some more) the other one was red (give me a break). I stuffed up for the next couple of weeks.
I didn’t forego the desire to get some sun on one of the famous beaches: everyday I would cycle to the seaside in hopes to enjoy the sun and the ocean but all I got a few stray rays.

On my last day I put my swimsuit on, went to Copacabana and spend a little bit of time on the beach amongst hundreds of people, but still, no sun.

Maybe it’s a sign I should return during a different season; after all beaches are Rio’s main attraction.

Saõ Paulo
I arrived in Saõ Paulo midday, and the Ciclovia on Paulista Avenue was already in full swing. Every Sunday, the avenue is closed to traffic for its full length, and thousands of people are strolling, rolling, cycling, singing and dancing. Many other streets are partially closed with a lane dedicated to cyclists, giving them a chance to ride worry-free. Naturally, I and Greengo joined the party. And guess what, it was kinda-sorta sunny. Take that, Rio!

The next day, I set on hitting all the landmarks to get it over with, in case the weather started playing dirty tricks on me again the following days. Saõ Paulo is a sprawling megapolis and the places I wanted to see were far apart, thus I geared up for a long day. There were random museums and buildings on my list, a few parks and neighborhoods. I wanted to do a photo series on Oscar Niemeyer’s works, which are scattered around the city. Disappointingly, some are obstructed, others are in bad shape or locked down, and I ended up with only a couple of photographs.

I tried to stay mostly on bike paths, as there are many. At one point I got into Brooklin, one of the more modern areas of the city, a distant cousin of the “hood” I now call home. Saõ Paulo as a whole is quite modern, particularly in comparison to Rio. As an urban cowboy I think I prefer Saõ Paulo to Rio… or might it be my frustration over the bad weather in Rio talking?

I finished the day in one of the world’s best restaurants – D.O.M. – but I wasn’t blown away and had to polish it off with ice cream at a nearby café.
The next morning, having already seen quite a lot the previous day, I got on my Brompton and aimlessly, or as my host Cecilia put it “sem destino”, cycled around. It was a sunny day and I didn’t mind being outside. There was a nice, long cycle path along the Rio Pinheiros. It was completely void of automobile traffic but there were a couple of problems: the access points were far apart and the river is dirty and smelly, thanks to industrial pollution and the sewage that flows into it. Yet, I joined several dozens cycling enthusiasts who were doing laps. The wind was blowing the stench away, so it wasn’t too bad. I also rode through a few parks and a dozen neighborhoods. After more than 90km, I called it a day. I now know what’s where in Saõ Paulo a little better.

In the past two weeks I had a taste of Brazil, although I am not sure Saõ Paulo and Rio are representative of the whole country. Nonetheless, another country added to my growing list.

Brazil in numbers:

478 km – distance cycled, chasing the elusive sun in Rio
211 km – distance cycled in concrete jungles of Saõ Paulo
47% – of South America’s land belongs to Brazil
635 t – weight of the statue of Christ the Redeemer
3 500 000 – people attended Rod Stuart concert in Copacabana
180 000 – people live in Rocinha, Rio’s biggest favéla
309 km – was the length of the traffic queue during evening rush hour in São Paulo a couple of years ago
37 128 – restaurants in Saõ Paulo, more than in London and Paris combined
1 600 000 – people of Japanese descent live in Brazil, 665 000 of them in Saõ Paulo