Corcovado and Sugar Loaf
During our stay in Rio de Janerio, we especially enjoyed our visits to its two “signature mountains,” as one source calls them, Corcovado (known for the Christ the Redeemer statue) and Sugar Loaf (in Portuguese, Pão de Açúcar).
We were accompanied in Rio, as elsewhere in Brazil, by our dear friends (and tour hosts), Dave Brinkley and his husband David Cole.
The beauty of the mountains around Rio is breathtaking, whether viewed from the city or the beaches or the harbor below, or from the summits of the mountains themselves.
Composed of solid granite, they rise up from sea level dramatically — and majestically — with sheer, almost vertical faces.
Sugar Loaf is about 1,300 feet high, and Corcovado another 1,000 feet higher.
Corcovado was clearly visible from the bedroom of our apartment at Ipanema Beach (see photo).
We ascended Sugar Loaf early one evening and Corcovado the next day.
In both instances, to be sure, our “ascent” was accomplished by mechanical device.
At Sugar Loaf, there is a beautifully engineered Swiss cable-car system, the Bondinho do Pão de Açúcar.
Originally built over 100 years ago, the cable cars carry visitors swiftly, serenely and gracefully to the top.
This is accomplished in two segments.
A first set of cable cars runs from a point down near the beach to the top of a smaller mountain, Morro da Urka, adjacent to Sugar Loaf. This stop itself affords dramatic views of the city below.
A second set of cable cars then runs across and up to the top of Sugar Loaf, where the views are absolutely magnificent.
We arrived at the top of Sugar Loaf just after sunset — Brinkley, Cole, and the two of us.
We all clowned around on Sugar Loaf like a group of tourists, posed for pictures, and drank a round (yet another round!) of caipirinhas.
At the top of Sugar Loaf there is a bust of Augusto Ramos, the engineer who designed and built the original cable car system in 1908 (shown here wearing one of our Tilley hats).
They also have installed a life-size statue of Augusto Ramos, alongside one of the original cable cars from that era.
Here is a racy photo of Augusto’s statue being playfully molested by one of us (can you guess which one?), while the other of us (do you see him, the innocent one, in the white shirt?) had his back turned.
Christ the Redeemer and the Man Who Planted Trees
At the top of Corcovado Mountain is the world-famous statue called Christ the Redeemer (in Portuguese, Cristo Redentor).
Cristo Redentor is an enormous (almost 100-feet tall), iconic Art Deco monument, erected nearly 80 years ago.
The massive statue is visible from pretty much everywhere in Rio.
Thanks to Dave Brinkley’s keen advance planning (there are reasons we call him “Cap’n Dave”), we rode to the top of Corcovado on the “Trem de Corcovado,” a 100-year-old “rack railway” or “mountain cog railway” that runs up the steep slope of the mountain.
On its route from the streets of Rio to the top of Corcovado, the train passes through a tropical rain forest filled with all sorts of plant and animal species, including monkeys. It is a national park, located (remarkably) in middle of a major city.
The train ride was an outing in itself.
At the top, we were awed, as every tourist surely is, by the amazing views from Corcovado.
The entire city of Rio de Janeiro was spread out below. We could see everything — the harbor, the beaches, the polo field — even our apartment building on Ipanema Beach.
The statue of Jesus is serene and beautiful. We could not help but be awed by it.
Beneath the statue, around the back and inside the base, there is a lovely little chapel where the Mass is celebrated. (We took the photo you see here before we saw a “no photos” sign posted there.)
Notice the two flags — Brazil and Vatican City. ¡Viva!
But, oh, it was hot that afternoon up on Corcovado! The tropical sun was intense. The throngs of tourists made it seem even hotter.
We were relieved to find a very nice, shaded café on a patio, just below the statue, down a few stairs.
Once again, it was that great genius, Cap’n Dave Brinkley, who served as our guide.
Dave had been to Corcovado before, and he knew just where to take us.
We sat under a nice green umbrella and instantly felt relief from the tropical heat. But the sun kept haunting us, peering around and even through the green umbrella.
Then, happily, a new table opened up under some shade trees, over in the corner of the patio. We grabbed our menus and moved. Now we were in proper shade. We had the best table in the house.
Our waiter was brusque at first, but quickly warmed to our group when Dave Brinkley spoke with him in fluent Brazilian Portuguese.
As he had done at other venues, Dave made our requests known, and at the same time ingratiated us to our host with small talk.
As our meal progressed, the waiter became increasingly more engaging with us. His demeanor softened and his natural friendliness emerged.
It is not easy serving tourists from all over the world. Ordinarily a certain professional decorum and emotional distance is required.
Our waiter’s reserve, however, melted away as Dave joked with him in Portuguese.
Eventually he disclosed that he himself had planted the trees we were sitting under — a mango tree and a passion fruit tree — many years earlier.
He explained that he had worked at this restaurant for 40 years. He told us that he does not harvest the fruit from the trees when it ripens. Instead, he leaves it for the monkeys, who come around at night, after the tourists leave, and pick the trees clean.
One of the mysteries of Central and South America is how the monkeys got there in the first place. Monkeys are everywhere, in virtually every country we visited, starting with Costa Rica. But how they got there millions of years ago — considering that they originated in Africa, not in America — remains a topic of debate among scientists.
Be that as it may, we do know this:
There is a hard-working man in Rio de Janeiro who waits on tables at a busy restaurant at the top of Corcovado mountain, at the base of Cristo Redentor.
Years ago, he planted passion fruit and mango trees there at the restaurant that have grown up and borne fruit.
A few lucky tourists — the ones who get the good table in the corner of the patio –are shaded by them.
The monkeys on the mountain feed from those trees.