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Cruise Diary: The Marvelous City

Days 14-15 – Jan. 19-20

A series of green-clad mountains and hills seems to be doing a samba around beautiful Guanabara Bay in the port of Rio de Janeiro. We got up early to be up on deck by 7 a.m. and watch our entrance into this spectacular natural harbor. Along with the ports of Hong Kong, Sydney and Acapulco, the port of Rio is considered among the world’s most scenic. Highlights of the entrance into the harbor include the picturesque Sugarloaf Mountain, Corcovado Mountain (Corcovado means hunchback), the city’s high rises and the world famous beach of Copacabana. “Favelas,” the hillside communities of the poor of Brazil, could also be seen along with high rises and modern structures. Arriving properly by ship is the best way to visit Rio, as the harbor is a fabulous introduction to this sexy, beautiful city whose name alone conjures up exotic images and of what is considered the planet’s biggest street party with parades, lavish costumes, music and dancing. It is “Carnaval,” taking place every year beginning four days before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent.

Rio de Janeiro

Rio has seven million inhabitants who think it is the most wonderful city in the world, our guide Patricia said. They call it “cidade maravilhosa”– marvelous city. To explore it, we signed up on board for a tour to Corcovado Mountain with its colossal statue of Christ the Redeemer, with arms outstretched as if to embrace the whole city and all who visit it. The statue, built between 1926 and 1931, is 38 meters tall, as high as a 13-story building. Tip: To photograph the statue from its deck, people were lying down flat on the ground to capture all of it. It is covered with mosaics, has sculptured face and hands and stands at an altitude of 710 meters within the Tijuca National Park.

Christ the Redeemer

A lush forested area, it has paths to enjoy its fabulous flora of some 1,000 species: multiple varieties of palms, banana trees, coffee plants, ferns, elephant ear and such exotic trees as the “jaca” with large, grayish pouch-like fruits growing by its trunk, which Patricia said had been introduced by the Portuguese for its fruit, which was used to feed the slaves who worked in sugar plantations. Blooming plants we saw included showy lobster claw, royal Poinciana, hibiscus and cattails. The view from the deck around the Christ the Redeemer Statue is simply breathtaking – the panorama of the city, the Guanabara Bay, the beaches of Ipanema and Leblon and more. Ascent to the top is achieved by trams and from the tram stop, by means of elevators and escalators. There are 220 steps from the tram station to the top for those who prefer to climb.

Our tour also took us to see the beaches and visit the Cathedral, a large, modernistic building with splendid stained glass windows.

Cathedral stained glass

Nobody comes to Rio and leaves without going to Copacabana Beach — we were no exception! The beach is gorgeous, a strip of wide white sands that stretch for miles, views of Sugarloaf Mountain, lots of colorful umbrellas, mosaic sidewalks and lots of activity, including impromptu soccer and volleyball games. Rental for an umbrella and beach chair is five reales for the whole day (approximately $2.50 and they accept U.S. dollars). A bargain for super people watching and a hedonistic day at the beach.

Aboard the Amsterdam, the last few days we’ve been immersed in Brazilian culture. One dinner at La Fontaine Dining Room showcased various Brazilian dishes — the black bean soup was delicious! — and we enjoyed a Brazilian high tea with typical pastries. We have enjoyed presentations about Brazil’s history and music like the tall and tan, young and lovely “Girl from Ipanema” — a real 15 year-old who would walk on the beach at Ipanema inspired the song. In watercolors class, we have been painting blue morpho butterflies and riverboats of the Amazon region, iron-grillwork doors from Recife and other Brazilian sights.

Barbara, our on board port guide lecturer, has talked to us about the stops in Brazil and given us tips for going ashore including dressing down, not carrying lots of cash (as there are pick-pockets, like in many major cities) and not wearing flashy jewelry. “If you have a Rolex and a Timex, wear the Timex!” she said. Good advice wherever we travel!

Freelance travel writer Georgina Cruz and her husband Humberto are currently sailing on Amsterdam’s 112-day Grand World Voyage and will be sending in cruise diaries throughout their time on board. She has logged 174 voyages to all seven continents and visited more than 100 countries.

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