Last week we celebrated the extra day of leap year by boarding a plane to Rio de Janeiro for a final fling before returning to the rigours of the new school year this week (more about that to follow)...
It was a fabulous trip to what must be one of the world's most naturally beautiful cities. Situated on a sprawling bay overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Rio is a metropolis with protruding hills and palm trees along miles of sweeping, golden beaches...all under the out-stretched embrace of Christ the Redeemer on one side and the imposing Sugar Loaf Mountain on the other. As we left the airport heading into the city we looked up and saw huge dark birds circling and gliding overhead... just one of the signs that we were somewhere new, exciting and exotic.
Exotic is probably a word which sums up Rio rather well, from its landscape, its vegetation, its tropical climate, its scantily-clad inhabitants to its food and cocktails, all of which we encountered at some point during our stay. Due to the Brazilians having already adjusted their clocks (an aspect which wasn't entirely clear to us for the first day and a half), we were in the same time zone as Santiago but suddenly in quite different surroundings and climatic conditions. While Santiago is warm and dry though cool at night, Rio was hot and humid all day long which was rather uncomfortable at first. Also this meant that indoors the air-conditioning was invariably set at full blast therefore also not ideal (a scarf or cardigan was essential extra clothing). Needless to say we tended to prefer the natural environment outdoors and just tried to keep ourselves hydrated as far as possible, although the inevitable traveller's tummy struck its evil blow (fortunately limiting itself to DH and myself, thus sparing us the agony of sick children on holiday). Interestingly there were very few families on the tourist trail but lots of gay and straight couples and also young adults in general.
We managed to strike a reasonable balance by aiming for half a day of sightseeing activities in the morning and spending the rest of the afternoon on the beach. The sand on Ipanema beach was as fine as golden flour, while at the foot of Sugar Loaf Mountain it was more like brown sugar. The girls were happy either way, busily digging and burying, shaping and constructing. Meanwhile the water of the Atlantic was turquoise and clean although the waves were often huge and the pull of the undercurrent dangerously strong.
One of the most memorable moments of the trip came as we were finishing lunch in Santa Teresa, a bohemian area on a hill whose cobbled streets and inviting shops, cafes and art galleries wouldn't look out of place in a fashionable part of London. A trio featuring a trombonist, an acoustic guitarist and a pianist began softly playing authentic bossanova which perfectly captured the mood and setting. We managed to linger at our table for long enough to savour the magic while the children attempted to take photos of the musicians until DD2's wriggling and fiddling with the trombonist's microphone became too much and we had to leave the establishment to remove the disturbance... Maybe Rio is more of an adult destination, though the girls loved the train ride up the Corcovado to see the statue of Christ and the cable cars up Sugar Loaf went down very well too. Plus the incredible beaches... An unforgettable and essential part of the South American experience for all of us.