Rev Neal Reports from South America and Antarctica
Aboard the ms Rotterdam
January 24 -- February 18, 2008
Dr. Gregory S. Neal
Rio Pre-Cruise Report:
I departed Dallas at 4:05 pm on American Airlines to Miami. The flight was packed -- they always seem to be filled to capacity these days -- but since I had used some airmiles to upgrade my arrangements for this trip I was able to enjoy the trip to Miami in the rare comfort of First Class. After a 3 hour lay over in Miami I took the 11:10 pm flight from Miami to Rio. This flight was also filled, though there was some unused capacity in Economy. I enjoyed Business Class, and the new seats. I wish I could afford to travel like this all the time -- 9 hours goes so much more nicely in business class than in the sardine press that is Economy.
Arrival in Rio was simple and quick. The plane pulled up to the terminal, we disembarked. The Foreigner line for Immigration was short and quick; the officer glanced at my passport and the Visa stamps in it, then stamped it and waved me through. At I picked up a rolling trolly (they were free for the taking) and proceeded to the baggage claim. I was prepared for this to be a long wait, but it took no more than 15 minutes and I had my bags piled on the cart and I was headed for customs. They took the custom form I had filled out while aboard the flight, dropped it in a pile of other forms and waved me through without so much as a "Welcome to Brazil." I was in.
I pushed my cart through the doors and out into the walk-area where the taxi arrangement stands were located. Since I had made arrangements with a tour guide for pick up at the airport, I didn't bother with these bound wound my way out to the pick up area, where I saw my name printed on a card being held by our trusty tour guide, Neyla. No problems! She greeted me and escorted me down a long hall way, down an elevator, and into a parking garage where we loaded my bags into her vehicle and we were out and on Rio's busy, congested, wild streets! While i would have made the transfer to the Hotel just fine with one of the pre-arranged taxis (for a flat fee), I much preferred knowing that someone was going to be there to meet me and I highly recommend others who do not speak Portuguese or have never been to Brazil before to do the same.
The Hotel InterContinental is pretty much like any major luxury hotel. The rooms are comfortable, the bed is comfortable, the bathroom is very nice, the view out my balcony is also very nice (I can see the Atlantic to my right and towers of luxury apartment buildings with the mountains to my left ... and a lovely beach right down in front of the hotel. The rooms are freshly painted and the carpet appears to be new. All-in-all, a very nice cabin -- er, hotel room -- for a Pre-Cruise stay.
Karl and Mary Ellen were out front to greet me upon my arrival. It was great to see them, but after check in all I wanted to do was go up to my room and crash for a few hours. We arranged to meet for dinner at 7pm that evening and I went up and dove into the tub and then into bed. That evening we ate the Pizza buffet located in the Hotel ... only, I wouldn't call it a buffet. Instead of you getting up to go get your pizza you just sit and they bring you around the pizzas they make and you select some of what you want. They're always orbiting around the room with pizza trays and you can eat what you like. They'll ask you if you want to try something special, etc. Nice. And the price was reasonable too.
Tour Day 1
On Friday, after breakfast in the Hotel, our Tour Guide Neyla met us at 8am and we embarked on a full day of touring Rio. Wow, what a big, bustling city! The people drive like wanna-be fighter pilots, and our driver/guide was an expert at it! We maneuvered our way through stop-and-go traffic, she giving us a running commentary on the city and pointing out the sites as we made our way to Corcovado and the Christ the Redeemer Statue. This was an historic, scenic, and religious experience. I've long seen photos of the Statue but didn't know much about it, other than its Art Deco appearance dates it to the late 1920s or early 1930s (it was built in 1931). The statue itself is massive, at 100 feet tall, standing atop a huge 25 foot pedestal ... Christ, with his arms open wide, is pronouncing blessings down upon the City of Rio and, indeed, upon the many tourists who make a pilgrimage up to see him. One doesn't drive up the Corcovado rock-mountain to see him; no, the only good way to visit is to buy a ticket at the park entrance and ride the electric-powered cog railway up to the top . It's a steep incline ... as much as 35 degree angle at times ... through a lush tropical jungle environment . At the top, if they're operational, one may ride up an elevator and then a set of escalators to the top -- when we got there the elevators were out of commission so we had to climb about 250 steps up to the escalators, the then ride the rest of the way up to the base of the statue.
From up here one has an amazing view of the city of Rio, looking down on all its major districts and sights. It's a fantastic place to get one's bearings on the layout of the city before doing some day tours. The Statue itself is truly lovely, and photographed well both by himself and with several of us pictured under Christ's arms.
Looking up at him is a religious experience, too, and I was touched by the faith and devotion of those who built it. There's a nice little chapel in the base and I sat there for a moment and prayed for my mother and for the memory of my father.
From Corcavado we made our way down into the Central part of the city where we visited the amazing, ultra-modern, pyramid shaped Metropolitan Cathedral. Grand, gothic, traditional styled churches and cathedrals are always impressive to visit; however, rare is the ultra-modern church structure which also manages to leave a spiritual imprint and impression. This Metropolitan Cathedral of St. Sebastian manages to do this rather well. From the outside it does impress one as an Aztec temple of pyramidal construction, but when one enters it one is struck by the truly worshipful nature of the space. The lofty, empty, air-filled chamber is flanked on all four sides by long, rectangular stained glass windows that flood the sanctuary with primary-color light.
The centered altar is the principle focal point for worship, with the Cardinal's throne behind it being yet another reminder that this is a seat of religious power and devotion.
From here we made our way through the center of town, past the main square, the Central Library, the National Theater, the grand Arcos da Lapa aqueduct, and other major buildings, then into Copa to "The Big Pig" ... a Brazilian Bar-B-Q restaurant where we were welcome to "chow-down" on an amazing an varied selection of vegetables, fruits, and various other dishes, while the waiters came by with selections of beef, pork, and chicken all cooked an varying ways. It was all wonderful and the three of us ate way too much.
From lunch we went up to the Sugar Loaf complex. Here we bought tickets (they only accept Reals (their currency) and VISA, so come prepared!) and road up in the cable cars to the way-station in the mid mountain, then on up to the top of Sugar Loaf, proper, where the views of Rio are truly breathtaking.
This if the obligatory sight for tourists, so we were ready for it to be busy. And, it was ... but we never really had to wait too long at any place for the ride either up or down. The only thing we did wrong was that I should have put on some sun-screen. I got too much sun on my face today.
After the visit to the Sugar Loaf we drove down and through some of the poorest neighborhoods to visit the famous Escadaria Selaron Staircase and got to meet Selaron himself as he was working on some of the ceramic tile panels that make up the steps and sides of this huge, famous artwork.
(Yes, that's a HAL Rotterdam Mariner Society Plate, built into the Wall! The Mariner Society should print this in their magazine!
After photographing many of the lower panels, and being photographed with the artist himself, we then made our way along the famous (or, perhaps, infamous?) Copacabana Beach, then on to Ipanema Beach, and finally up Barra beach (where our hotel is) to where we could watch as the hang gliders jumped off the mountains behind the city and coasted down in the air to make landings on the beach.
We were invited to try our own wings with this adventure, and while Karl and Mary Ellen considered it, I don't think they were serious!! I know I wasn't!!!
All-in-all, a wonderful day! Tomorrow, we do Petropolis ... the Imperial City.
Well, that's all from Rio. I'm exhausted and my bed is calling to me. one more night, after tonight, and we'll be boarding the lovely Rotterdam, which is due in the port tomorrow, along with the Queen Elizabeth II! Thank God we did the city today, for tomorrow the place will be packed.