A Little Site-seeing and Adventure in Beautiful Rio

The last few days I have had the opportunity to see Rio from some unusual, fun and exciting perspectives. It’s hard to imagine a poor view anywhere in the incredible landscape this city occupies, but I have really enjoyed experiencing some of them in ways I think many people might not have the opportunity to try.
Me at the top of the Sugarloaf with the Cable Car Mid-Point middle background and Corcovado way back.
On Monday I rock climbed both the Pão de Açucar or SugarLoaf as well as the Corcovado on the top of which sits Cristo Redentor or Christ the Redeemer. This 30 meter statue is one of the most famous and recognizable icons in the world today. It is a huge symbol of Rio and although something like 1,300 people and hour visit it via tram or bus, few I think get to climb the side of the cliffs guarding its summit and cross the tourist barrier from outside in. You get some pretty interesting looks from the other tourists coming over the big railing onto the viewing platform while wearing climbing gear and dragging a rope. Ditto for the Sugarloaf, although for some reason it didn’t seem as dramatic. I’ll come back to the climbing a little later.
Next day Tuesday, I went hang-gliding ( voo livre in Portuguese ) at Pedro Bonita ramp inside the Tijuca Forest National Park. The meeting point is just down the coast at São Conrado and for some reason I couldn’t get any taxi to take me there even after asking a half dozen. I had 3 guys at the front desk trying to help too, but my Portuguese is very limited as was their English. So I called the amazing Glauco who runs Megafly ( http://megafly.com.br ) and explained the situation. He set me up with a ride two other tourists were taking out there later from a Hostel called Walk on the Beach. One of the guys from the front desk walked me several blocks to ensure I found it okay and when I got there, the gal running the place gave me free coffee and a nice place to sit. I have to say that I have found this sort  of friendly generosity and kindness all over the place in Rio. The people here are just wonderful. So long story short, we three get there and ride up the mountain with Glauco.
Okay I know he is holding the bar and wearing the Instrutor t-shirt, but really I am at the controls… haha.
Above the beach at São Conrado

There was a nasty car accident on the very very steep final road leading to the summit ramp, so we all (many cars and flyers) wait while emergency services does their stuff. After a while we get to the summit and the views are spectacular from there and of course it’s a frenzy of instructors assembling kites, going over flying instructions with clients etc. I have to wait an hour or so because I actually missed my original flight time so the couple I met went first. I actually loved the time up watching everyone take off and doing a little forest exploration in the vicinity. The jungle sounds were unique and cool (I got recordings) but what Really Really blew me away was seeing some incredibly beautiful giant blue butterflies that I think were Blue Morphos, but I’m not a Lepidopterist so not 100% sure. If you know me well, you know that butterflies and dragonflies hold special significance for me. This particular butterfly even more so for personal reasons. Anyway, to me it was an amazing sign from the Universe or Great Spirit  telling me something important and I was grateful for the timely message. Thank you.

When my time came, I didn’t fly with Glauco, but Klaus, one of his other instructors. Klaus is very experienced and a great guy, but stands about 6’7” (taking a guess) so he just towered over me. Take off is the riskiest part and in order to get airborne, you both have to do this sort of three-legged run down the ramp and off the cliff into space. You can imagine the two of us – Mutt and Jeff running along keeping synchronized with short and long legs like that. Pretty funny, but we did it right with only one practice run and the actual take-off went perfectly. Such an amazing feeling flying like that!!! I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face all during the flight and for a long time afterwards. I mean the views when you are rock climbing are spectacular, but one side always has the rock or at least you hope so haha. But flying like this there are no walls and nothing to get in the way. Wonderful sensation!!

The flight only lasts about 15-20 minutes and it goes by like an eye blink. At the bottom, we all get fresh coconut water with a straw poked into the freshly trepanned coconut husk. Chilled and soooooo delicious. I had a little time so also got an Açai (pronounced Ahh-Sah-Eee as near as I can get it) Smoothie which my climbing Guide Andrew introduced me to on Monday during a snack between the 2 climbs. I am Hooked on these things!!! Thick and rich and eaten with a spoon. Roughly the color of reddish coffee and apparently pretty good for you, although anything that yummy must have about 45 million calories per spoonful.

Morning clouds rolling over the Pão de Açucar or Sugarloaf

So back to the climbing on Monday. I met my guide Andrew (from http://www.ancoraue.com ) just after sunrise at the base near where the Cable Car Station is. In fact the cables pass right above you for a good portion of the 5-6 pitch climb so you can wave at the tourists as they wave at you. First you have to take a pretty decent hike to the base of the actual climb. The rock is granite and the style is mostly steep friction on these little knobs and protrusions, but lot’s of plain old smearing too. The rock is stickier than any other pure granite I have ever been on it it takes a while to believe your shoes will stick as well as they do on some of those holds. Sometimes it is a little like climbing in Tuolumne in Yosemite and sometimes a little like Squamish, but it’s really pretty unique. The quality of the rock and the lines are fabulous though. Andrew was a wonderful guide and we got along great. Lots of fun and he’s very knowledgeable.

Looking down from the Sugarloaf. You can see the Cable Car cables at the bottom of the picture
One of the few big ledges on the route where I could bust out the iPhone camera for pics

Looking down at the Cable Car Mid-Station

My little point and shoot camera wasn’t working and I didn’t find out until part way up the climb. Not sure what the problem is, but without a strap, I’m not about to take out my iPhone and snap photos in the middle of the climb. Just too much risk in dropping it so not much in the way of images from the climb itself sadly. Most belays were hanging but there were a couple of big ledges and I took out the iPhone on those for a very few pics on the routes. Strangely enough, I have had the same problem with the underwater camera I bought in Bali (not cheap either) and despite about 8 dives, I have only a handful of shitty quality images to show for it. Go figure. The iPhone has been a superstar though. We topped out near noon and had a soda and poke around the top while I took tourist pics.

Looking up at the Corcovado from Lagoa  Rodrigo de Freitas. Cristo Redentor at the top.
Looking down from the Corcovado route at the Lagoa  Rodrigo de Freitas

Then I hopped on the back of his motorcycle and we raced across the city to climb the Corcovado. The motorcycle ride was hands down the most heart pounding part of the day and truth be told most dangerous. Blazing up the steep cobblestone roads with old rail tracks waiting to catch a bike tire was thrilling indeed. We get to the base where the Tram and tour buses take people to the top and then hike across to the base of the climb. This route is 4 pitches since you start pretty far up the cliff face and both rock and technique are pretty similar. This one does start with some interesting lay-backing up a left-facing dihedral though. The views here are spectacular too and you can the Sugarloaf back across the city (the reverse of course is also true). We get to the top after some really fun climbing and pull over the railing onto the viewing platform….
OMG – if I thought the top of the Sugarloaf was busy and crowded, it’s nothing.. nothing!.. compared to this small area! It’s just a teeming ant farm of tourists up there. I suppose bringing 1,300 people an hour up there will do that though. It’s later in afternoon the sun is right above the left shoulder of the Cristo Redentor’s left shoulder (or right as you look at it.) It’s beautiful and magnificent. At 30 meters tall with an 8 meter base, it is imposing and visible I think from most of Rio. One of the most famous icons on the planet so not surprising it would be busy up there though. It was nice to take a tour bus down though. If I had ever thought about taking a helicopter ride at sunset for pictures, this would be the place and the subject matter. Wow.

A couple of thoughts about the climbing on the Sugarloaf – it was very interesting to watch planes land and take at the Rio airport from above on their approach. It’s a perspective you don’t get very often. Also, when I first got here and was researching climbing guides, I also came in contact with a really good one and a good guy Gustavo from Rio Climbing Guides who I am still in touch with and who I would also highly recommend. You can find him at: http://www.rioclimbingguides.com.

It was a really fabulous day and I ended it tired, still and sore. My toes especially were giving me problems all day. ***Note to Self – do not do a climbing day this again then jump into an intense yoga practice the next day in a really really hot place like Rio. My friends Ananda and Charles have this beautiful yoga studio in Ipanema, the city next to Copacabana where I am staying and although they are currently traveling in India, they graciously arranged to let me sit in on a 2 hour practice next day. Their teachers were not only extremely good and talented, but also kind, generous and welcoming. Small group of advanced students who were also very nice and helpful. I am so grateful to Ananda and Charles for this opportunity. I wish I wasn’t so tired from the previous day though it couldn’t really be helped. I have never sweated so much in my whole life and struggled through some of the asanas, but at the end felt marvelous.