Carlie and Jeff in the Lapa neighborhood, near the bottom of the Selaron Steps

Monday | June 16, 2014

Today was not technically a “match day” for us, but in a way it was the biggest match day since we’ve been here, with the U.S.A. set to face off against Ghana in their first Group G contest. But first we had some touristy stuff on the agenda.

It was a bit painful, but we woke early, took advantage of the free hotel breakfast and met our guide Marcos at 7:30 AM so we could make the drive up to Corcovado and arrive just when the gates open at 8:00 AM. Corcovado, which comes from the Portuguese word for “hunchback”, is the site of the most iconic landmark in Rio—and perhaps all of Brazil: the statue of Cristo Redento, or Christ the Redeemer. At a height of 98-feet, not including a 26-foot pedestal, “The Christ” watches over Rio de Janeiro from atop this 2,316-foot high mountain. Perhaps more impressive than its height is its “wingspan”, which at 92 feet from “fingertip to fingertip” is nearly the same as its height. At well over 600 tons, the statue can be appreciated not only as an Art Deco masterpiece, but also as pure genius from an engineering and construction standpoint.

The weather can change quickly here in Rio, and despite the clear view of the statue we enjoyed from the bottom of the mountain it was cloudy by the time we made our way to the top, so we were left wanting for premium photo ops. We resolved to try our luck again Wednesday morning, but have included some of our “cloudy day” photos below.

Christ the Redeemer (rear view), from just below the summit.
Christ the Redeemer (rear view), from just below the summit.
Christ the Redeemer (rear view), taken from just below the summit.
Christ the Redeemer (front view)
Cool pic (all credit to Carlie for this one)
Give a big hand to Carlie for taking this one (suitable for framing, eh?)
Now you understand why we decided we needed to come back another day.
Now you understand why we decided we needed to come back another day.
There's a cafe on the top of Corcovado, but the time we wasted there did nothing to clear the sky.
There’s a cafe on the top of Corcovado, but the time we wasted there did nothing to clear the sky.
How do you say "PRINGOOOLS?", and anyway, didn't we just eat?
How do you say “PRINGOOOLS?”  And anyway, didn’t we just eat?

Marcos took a different route on the way down the mountain, through the Santa Teresa neighborhood and down to the Lapa neighborhood. Lapa is a lively area in the center of Rio known for its many restaurants, bars and clubs—and is the cradle of bohemian Rio. Along the way we stopped at an overlook for a birds-eye view of one of the many hillside slums, or “favelas” that border this neighborhood. From a distance the favelas appear to resemble the quaint hillside villages of Tuscany, but upon closer inspection you can clearly see the sub-standard conditions—an unfortunate reality for so many Brazilians.

Hillside favela adjacent to the Santa Teresa neighborhood
Hillside favela adjacent to the Santa Teresa neighborhood
Close up of the favela
Close up of the favela pictured above
Nice house along the main street, but adjacent to the favela
Nice house in Santa Teresa, but adjacent to the favela

After reaching the end of “the long and winding road” to Lapa we visited the “Arcos de Lapa”, a Roman-style aqueduct built in the early 1700’s to transport water from the Santa Teresa Forest into a large public drinking fountain in town. Now passenger trams run across the top of the Lapas Arches to and from Santa Teresa. A pretty cool way to repurpose a historical artifact, at least I thought so.

Carlie walking near the Arcos de Lapa
Carlie walking near the “Arcos de Lapa”

Another way to get from up to the Santa Teresa neighborhood down to Lapa is the Escadaria Selarón, a.k.a. the Selaron Steps. While not as well known or picturesque as Rome’s Spanish Steps, they outnumber their more famous cousin by 80 or so, and there is a great (and ultimately tragic) story behind them that I will attempt to summarize.

In 1990 a Chilean-born painter named Jorge Selarón began renovating—and decorating—the dilapidated steps outside his house with brightly colored scraps of ceramic tile in the blue, green and yellow colors of the Brazilian Flag. It soon became an obsession, and while it took time away from his painting, he managed to sell thousands of paintings to fund his work. Oddly, most of these paintings were of the same pregnant African-American “woman”, which he would not comment on except to say “It was a personal problem from my past”.

Carlie & Jeff on the Selaron Steps
Carlie & Jeff on the Selaron Steps
Brasil, I Love You (Selaron Steps)
Brasil, I Love You (Selaron Steps)

As you can see from these photos the project evolved well beyond the brightly colored scraps of blue, green and yellow tile to include hand-painted tiles by Selarón himself, as well as hundreds of unique tiles donated by visitors from all over the world. Can you guess who was depicted in the 300-some odd tiles hand painted by Selarón?

The mysterious "pregnant woman", with Selaron's head
The mysterious “pregnant woman”, with Selaron’s head
Large tile depicting the artist, Jorge Selaron
Large tile depicting the artist, Jorge Selaron.  Sadly, he was found dead on the steps in early 2013, with burn marks all over his body.  The cause of his death remains a mystery.

After leaving the steps we headed directly to the tram entrance in the suburb of Urca for the ride up to Sugar Loaf Mountain, perhaps the second-most recognizable landmark in Rio. If you have been following the World Cup on TV you’ve no doubt seen it several times. At an elevation of 1,312 feet, this granite and quartz monolith seems to rise straight out of the mouth of the Guanabara Bay.

Lower tram station (65 passenger capacity)
Tram departing the lower station (65 passenger capacity)

Two different cable car rides are required to reach the summit, the first (pictured above) reaches the Morro da Urca, a flat-topped, 722-foot mountain with a concession, mini-museum feature the original cable cars and a small helicopter pad for the those tourists with a bigger appetite for risk.

From there it’s a short ride up to the summit of the Sugar Loaf, which is named for the conical-shaped clay molds once used to refine sugar. Rather than do the 360° views we took in here an injustice by trying to describe them in words, a few of our best photos are included below.

Taken from the Morro da Urca, with Sugar Lof in the background
Sugar Loaf, as seen from the Morro da Urcca
Carlie on the Morro da Urca
Carlie on the Morro da Urca
View from the tram near the top of Sugar Loaf, down towards Team England's base camp
View from the tram near the top of Sugar Loaf, down towards Team England’s base camp
View from the top of Sugar Loaf, across the bay to Copacabana Beach
View from the top of Sugar Loaf, across the bay to Copacabana Beach

Working at the souvenir shop at the summit was a young lady who bore such an uncanny resemblance to Carlie’s friend Shannon Bailey that we had to do a double-take. She happened to be in the cable car on our way down, so we snapped this photo of her with Carlie. Carlie then showed her a picture of Shannon, and she agreed, but for the record, Shannon is much prettier.

Carlie with Shannon's doeppelganger
Carlie with Shannon’s doppelganger

We had a date with the TV at 1300 hrs on this day, to watch Germany take on Portugal in Group G, so Marcos raced us back to our hotel, where we settled into our room for what turned out to be an impressive 4-0 result for the Germans. For the Portuguese, who lost: (a) the match, (b) Pepe to a red card for the rest of that match and at least one more for his head-butt of Thomas Müller, (c) Fabio Coentrao to a thigh injury for the rest of the tournament, and (d) barring a miracle, any chance for a respectable goal differential in the event of a tie in the standings, not so much.

Eschewing the FIFA Fan Fest so we could ensure the proper level of focus on the action, later that afternoon we settled into some front row seats in front of a big-screen TV at Arazem Devassa in Ipanema, along with some other U.S.A. fans from Denver and Atlanta, to see the U.S.A open up Group Play against Ghana.

Beginning of USA vs. Ghana match, taken from our "front row" seats
Start of USA vs. Ghana match, taken from our “seats”

Most of you already understand the historical backdrop for this match; not exactly the “Curse of the Babe”, but a 3rd consecutive World Cup defeat by a country with a land mass 2.4% of the size of the U.S.A. and a population less than the Republic of Texas, and it might as well be.  You know the result too, so I will spare my own game summary and simply say: Ohhh-lay O-lay O-lay O-lay…U-S-A, U-S-A (lather, rinse, repeat).

Final Result: U.S.A.  2 – Ghana 1

 

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