I arrived in Rio 6 days before the start of the Olympic games and the place was humming with expectation. And when I say expectation, what I really mean is last-minute preparation. As proof of this, I took a photo of a set of Olympic rings, wrapped in plastic, that arrived at night as I was cycling around the city. Sadly, I contrived to delete the photo in error, so you’ll have to use your imaginations.
I had booked into an AirBnB room two blocks from the Copacabana beach with Jorge, a Paraguayan who had moved to Rio 15 years previously. After initial introductions, whilst Jorge and I were chatting, he let on that he was planning a bike ride that evening to get some exercise. I was feeling slothful (I had been snacking on a three-toed sloth all morning) after a couple of days without exercise, so suggested I’d be keen to join.
Rio boasts an ubiquitous, orange version of London’s Brexit Boris bike. The difference between the Rio version and the London one is that Rio frequently has weather that allows one to use the bicycles with little or no threat of frostbite or hypothermia.
The prices were good: 5 reals (just over 1GBP) per day or 10 reals (do the maths) for a month. My love of a good deal led me to pay for the month – like an annual gym membership bought in January, I didn’t care if I only used it once, as long as I got a good deal!
We mounted our orange steeds and off we trotted. Rio has a sprawling network of cycle lanes which are set well back from the roads which makes it easier to avoid imminent death. That said, I had a feeling that Jorge had earmarked me for imminent death anyway: as we cycled through different neighbourhoods, he would tell me how dangerous it was to be there and would gleefully regale me with tales of muggings, stabbings and general nastiness.
I quickly realised that he was referring to non-Olympic Rio. To reassure the international community of their safety at the Games, Rio had gone all out, posting armed police and soldiers at what felt like 20m intervals. Even the most brazen of muggers was going to think twice.
We stopped in Lapa, one of the main party areas and gave in to the urge to buy a beer from a “boteco” – similar to a 7-11 or an off-licence. The Rio bikes having front baskets, we then began a three-hour exhibition of beercycling, with regular stops both to take on fluid and to remove it. Do not try any of this at home. In fact, don’t try it in Rio either.
The following morning, in a bid to steal a march on the torrent of tourists about to arrive in the city, I decided to visit Christ the Redeemer, or Corcovado, as it is known in Brazil.
The most picturesque route to the statue is via a funicular which gives excellent views of the city as it chugs up the almost unfeasibly steep ascent. I was sharing my carriage with around 10 members of the Russian Olympic team and had to resist the suicidal urge to ask where the rest of the team was.
I had, for some time, thought that I would never find a cityscape to beat the view of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak. I have now. Such was the beauty of the panorama that it took me a good 30 minutes before I even turned my attention to the 100ft Jesus several yards from where I stood. White, sandy beaches, bays, valleys, rocky peaks, urban forest, busy harbours and a bridge to make Brunel posthumously envious: it is an ocular feast, a glut of gorgeousness.
Feeling “in the zone” for tourist activity, next on my list was the Jardim Botánico. No prizes for translation.
Sadly, it being winter, many of the more colourful flowers were not in bloom, however, this little enclave of horticultural serenity in the midst of madness is well worth a visit. The monkeys agree with me.