It was overcast again on Tuesday. The guys were at breakfast, and they’d had a drunken late night in Ipanema and weren’t feeling so hot. After coffee and toast we headed out for the sugarloaf.
We walked down through Botafogo, along the white stony paths, past the guards and railings, a shopping centre and along Praia do Botafogo. It was a national holiday and the joggers were out in force. We continued past the university and into Urca.
Urca is a small village-like retreat within Rio. Sitting tightly beneath the sugarloaf, it juts out into the sea, and there are just a few rows of houses. But the signs of Rio are gone, no taxis, no security or graffiti, just Christ the Redeemer standing tall in the distance, amidst a beautiful view of the city and well tended gardens.
A sea wall and promenade surrounds Urca, and we followed it round. Joggers and their dogs ran by, fishermen sat with their lines cast into the sea, a cheeky heron hanging around nearby waiting to grab their catch. Kids played on the beach and the area had a lovely small-community feel to it.
At the end of the promenade, where we could walk no further, there is a busy bar, appropriately named “Bar Urca”. We bought hot snacks; fish balls, mini samosas and pasties and joined everyone drinking and eating on the sea wall.
We were casually looking for a restaurant, and found it by accident after eating our snacks. Garota da Urca was hugely popular with the locals, and on this national holiday it was heaving with families, all having the same thing: thin steak cooked on a hot plate, served with farofa, chips, salad and rice. We pointed, “we’ll have one of those”, and still hungry we gorged ourselves on tasty steak and carbs. Delicious, even if it did induce a food coma.
Sated, rested and ready for the rest of the day we headed out of Urca, round past the cable car entrances, along the small Praia Vermelha, past a performing amateur drama group, and onto a 2km walking nature trail, Pista Claudio Coutinho.
The trail arches around the southern side of Päo de Açúar (suagarloaf). In wooded surroundings, the great rock towered to our left while waves crashed against it’s foot to the right. The quiet route had the occasional jogger, family or climber. On large wooden boards the types of wildlife were listed, but only in Portuguese. Bright red birds flitted between the leaves and tame marmosets climbed down to say hello, clearly expecting to be fed something. Large black vultures sat in the trees above us, and a father was teaching his son to boulder.
We walked out, to the large pillar and the end of the trail, then back again, and to the cable cars. Sam swallowed her fear of rooms that dangle in mid-air, and we climbed aboard. The large modern car took us up 220m to Morro da Urca.
Atop we passed the helipad and restaurant, and started snapping photos of the incredible Rio views. Tower blocks rise from greenery, and nestle into every possible corner, gradually rising up the mountainside. The clouds fly beneath Christo Redentor, through the valleys, and misty hilltops poke out above them. We are already high above Botafogo and Urca. This ‘level’ also has a museum, showing how the cable cars were built, and with a scary example of the first one.
Then upwards again, onto the second cable car to take us to Päo de Açúar, 396m above Rio. Wow, the views are incredible. From here you can see Botafogo, Centro, Copacabana, Ipanema poking from behind a rock, Flamengo and beyond to Sao Cristovao and out across the sea to Niteroi.
We took photos at every angle, explored the shops and walkways, and watched other tourists pose for their own shots. It was quiet and lovely.
Sam bought us Caipirinhas and we sat to take in the scenery, waiting for the sun to set. Rays of sunlight peaked through the clouds, occasionally dazzling us in sunshine. A light breeze kept us cool. Black herons swarmed high above us and marmosets hopped around the white railings, scavenging for food. Our Brazil Lonely Planet book sat rested on the table, well thumbed and scribbled on. Rio life continuing beneath us.
We watched as aeroplanes lifted from their runway, climbing and circling above the water, where ships were heading to the docks. The quiet whirring sounds of cable cars going up and down were met with idle Brazilian chit-chat. It was peaceful, tranquil and beautiful. We could see everything. There was no rush to do anything, nothing to worry about, only the city, the hills, the sea and the wildlife.
The sky began to darken, and the city lights turned on, one by one, through twilight into night. We positioned our tripod and took sweeping photos of the cityscape, Christ the Redeemer now basking in white light. After a couple of shots we noticed him disappear behind a thick cloud.
Then the cloud moved closer, covering Rio beneath us, lit up from below. The winds picked up and then it was too late to go anywhere; swirling winds and lashing rain hit the sugarloaf, we were inside the storm cloud and dashed for cover.
At the cable car station we all sheltered from the 100kmph winds. The cable car closed and we were stranded until it passed, if it passed. In our wet weather gear we befriended the other tourists, and I ventured outside a couple of times. The wind pushed me down and rain soaked my face, as I clambered high above the city lights.
After 40 minutes the rain stopped and the cable car re-opened, the winds still bashing us. Apparently the cable car could withstand it. We filled the car and began our dark descent, the car swinging in the wind, everyone screaming with each sudden movement. The darkness masked most of the fear, it was easy to forget how high up we were. But after this Sam should be able to face any cable car ride. At Morro da Urca we charged through and did the same again, taking the second car back down to sea level.
And the adventure was over and we were starving. Miam Miam, a recommended restaurant, looked like it was nearby and we walked in search of it. In hindsight we should have got a taxi. Wandering the empty dark streets, even in this relatively safe area, felt risky. After 20 minutes or so we found a shopping centre and asked for directions. “It’s just around that corner. But take a taxi”, “It’s nearby but you should go by taxi”.
We didn’t take a taxi, but we didn’t continue our search either. Inside, next to the upmarket shops were food places and we found a fantastic pizzeria. No English menus but we could guess, no English speaking waiters, but we could gesture. In Brazil everyone eats pizza with a knife and fork, I complied. In the large red lit chain restaurant we waited for our stone-baked pizza and happily devoured our tasty carbs when they arrived.
Taxi home, and sleep, out like a light.