"Hey Miss America!" the young Australian man called out to me as we waited for the train that would take us down Corcovado mountain.
"Will you tell the guide that we went down early, and will find our way back to the hotel ourselves?"
We'd gone to the top of Corcovado mountain to get an up-close-and-personal view of the Christ the Redeemer statue majestically standing there, hands outstretched, overlooking gorgeous Rio de Janeiro. Here are a few images I captured of it from Sugarloaf, another mountain in Rio:
Unfortunately, after riding the squealing train up steep Corcovado mountain,
through the Tijuca forest, with its trees growing watermelon-sized jackfruit,
past the numerous religious shrines along the tracks
we were disappointed to find the Cristo Redentor statue shrouded in fog.
Instead of looking at the gorgeous view from there, we looked at the view signs and imagined what we'd see if the fog ever lifted:
Instead of taking photos of the statue, we had to be content with taking photos of tourists posing like the statue:
And taking photos of the miniature statues for sale in the souvenir shops:
When the Australian called me "Miss America", I realized that although we'd enjoyed chatting with each other that day, we hadn't yet formally introduced ourselves and exchanged names. But "Miss America" worked, and was more fun anyway.
Typically, I avoid traveling with large tour groups, but because of safety concerns, I traveled with one my first day in Rio.
Rio has a reputation for being one of the most dangerous cities in the world, and I was especially nervous to visit after seeing the news of a small war that broke out there a few days before I arrived, resulting in 42 deaths. Police versus drug lords, both well armed. The police finally brought in tanks, the only type of artillery that couldn't be matched by the drug traffickers. Here's a newspaper article where you can see some incredible photographs of the small war.
Other than the fear that gripped my heart as my driver and I drove past Rio's favelas on the evening I arrived, the increased police presence at tourist sites, and the shock I felt when I realized upon my return home that the police had detonated a large crate at the General Osorio/Ipanema subway station a few days before I boarded a subway there, I was fortunate to not be affected by Rio's violence.
And although traveling with a large group can be frustrating, I enjoyed the opportunity it provided to visit with interesting people from around the world.
"Have you heard of the South African man who walked and sailed all the way around the world along the equator?" the Malaysian man across the aisle of the bus asked me as we stopped at several hotels along Copacabana beach to pick up tourists. "I MET him once!" he proudly declared.
Once the large bus was filled with tourists, memories of grade school flashed into my mind as our guide gave each of us a sticker with his name on it, telling us to put it on our shirts in case we got lost. I liked Joalber. After distributing the stickers, he transformed into a non-stop talking machine as we made our way through some of the 22 tunnels and beautiful streets of Rio.
Hardly stopping to breathe, he quickly rotated his commentary between Spanish, Portuguese, and English. "Hello my friends!" he'd say when it was time for the English speakers to pay attention, although I paid attention the entire time, having fun trying to guess the gist of what he was saying before he looped around to English.
He showed us some of Rio's beautiful buildings and streets:
And the very unique Metropolitan Cathedral, whose exterior reminded me of an Aztec pyramid:
And whose interior reminded me of the congressional meeting rooms in Star Wars movies:
Joalber was accustomed to guiding nervous tourists, so he'd say things like "Don't worry! I'm just walking across the street and will be RIGHT BACK!"
"The fact that he keeps telling us to not worry is making me nervous!" one of the Australian tourists said. "I wouldn't have thought to worry if he hadn't mentioned it!"
After lunch, another guide replaced Joalber, and he liked me a lot. "You were a good daughter to your parents, weren't you?" he asked before telling me about the challenges his teenage daughters are causing for him. He thinks I look like Julie Andrews. "You look like a teacher...are you a teacher?" he asked, disappointed to learn that I'm a software developer.
Once we finished our tour for the day and began dropping people off at their Copacabana hotels, I decided to hop off the bus early and walk to my hotel nestled between Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. "Don't get off the bus already!" my new guide lamented. "I like you! I'll take you to your hotel!" I thanked him for his concern, but got off the bus anyway. "Keep being good to your parents!" he called out as I walked away.
I'd gotten off so I could check out the Copacabana Palace Hotel, one of the places listed in the "1000 Places to See Before You Die" book, where many famous movie stars stayed. I walked past all the limousines and black cars with darkly tinted windows parked in front, smiled and nodded at the ten dark-suited doormen as if I belonged there, and walked into the small lavender-scented lobby. Because even the cheapest rooms there are more than $500 a night, I considered my walk around the orchid-surrounded pool and courtyard good enough to merit checking this off my list of places to visit.
I then turned my attention to walking along the very beautiful, very long, Copacabana beach.
The beach has amazing sandcastles: many of them with a tip jar in the front, some of them with scenes that made me blush.
I enjoyed seeing the kids play futbol
and spent twenty minutes fascinated by a game of volleyball played entirely without hands
I liked seeing all the folks exercising along there
But my favorite part was taking off my shoes and walking along the ocean's edge. The very fine sand was comfortable to my normally tender feet, and the warm water lapped my feet like a friendly dog as the sun sank into the ocean.
The following day, I was surprised to hear someone call my name as I walked along Ipanema Beach. I turned to find Graciela, a lady from Mexico City I'd met on the large group tour. She works for Oracle, and was en route to an Oracle conference in Sao Paulo, and so we had a lot in common, me being a former Oracle employee and having attended the San Francisco version of the conference two months prior. Happy to see each other again, we compared notes on our second day in Rio.
And I felt grateful to have a few friends in Rio, even if some of them were tourists that only knew me by the name "Miss America".