To be honest, at the beginning I wasn’t particularly interested in visiting Rio, especially during Carnival. Rio was very low on my personal list of places to visit. But my Catalan friends Joaquin and Monica invited us to sail all the way there as guests on their boat, a beautiful Leopard 45. How could we turn down such an offer?
Joaquin and Monica had also some old time friends visiting, Ricardo and Isabel. For Yuka and I this sailing trip as guests was also like a full immersion Spanish culture class (and cuisine). Learning something new every day from very experienced sailors! Ricardo and Isabel, on top of being a great singer/guitar players and having circumnavigated on a classic wooden sailboat, are also excellent cooks, and taught Yuka how to make bread and the Arros a banda, a very popular dish along the Valencian coast of Spain.
Well, once again it turned out to be one of the best decision of our lives. We liked Rio and the company so much, that instead of staying just one week as scheduled, we stayed two weeks. The whole duration of the Carnival!
Seeing Rio for the first time from the ocean on a sailboat is a unique experience. We were coming from the south, so at day break we sailed along Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana first, and when we got to the entrance of Guanabara bay we understood why the first explorers gave it the name of Rio de Janeiro: it really seems like the entrance of the mouth of a river!
The bay is surrounded by spectacular geographic features: The Sugar Loaf mountain, the Corcovado Peak and the hills of Tijuca. It is breath taking! Entering Rio by sea is just as spectacular as entering San Francisco and seeing the Golden Gate bridge for the first time. The bay well deserves to be one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World!
According to some historians, the original name given by the exploration team to the bay was Ria de Janeiro “January’s Lagoon”, then a confusion took place between the word Ria (lagoon) and Rio (river). I can only imagine how beautiful this bay must have been until just a couple of centuries ago, when it was a breeding ground for whales.
Unfortunately, today it’s heavily polluted by sewage, garbage and oil spins. More than 70% of the sewage from the 12+ million inhabitants of Rio de Janeiro flows untreated into the bay. A real environmental disaster for which the Brazilian government should really do something.
We took a berth in the Marina de Gloria, which is conveniently located near the neighborhood called Botafogo. It’s a great marina, and when we arrived they were putting up a big screen to show the match between Barcellona and Real Madrid. Could there be a better way to welcome our Spanish friends? Of course we couldn’t miss that match!
From the Marina, a Uber to Ipanema or Copacabana was only a few dollars. We had a blast visiting Copacabana, Ipanema, the Christ on the Corcovado, the Pao de Azucar, the botanical garden and the old historic downtown.
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We did everything we wanted to, except one thing: We couldn’t visit any museum because they were all closed for the Carnival! How crazy is this?
Oh well, we’ll have to come back here again, once we start sailing north, so there’s going to be another occasion to visit the museums!
My guide book for Brazil “Moon Handbooks” (not sure how I got that, probably someone gave it to me), warmly discourage tourists to attend the Carnival at the Sambadrome saying “it’s hot, crowded, and there are unbearable lines for bad food, worse beer and filthy bathrooms. You’re bound to sit next to loud and obnoxious people who through food and chain-smoke the entire time”.
You can understand how I felt when Joaquin proposed to go to the Sambadrome. Once again, I’m glad we did, because it was far from what the guide book said, and we all had great time (and excellent Caipirinhas, by the way).
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The parade was spectacular, with very elaborated allegorical floats up to 9 meters high, pushed by hand, and each school performing a different theme-plot.
During the Carnival, the city of Rio is probably the safest city in the world. There is police everywhere 24/7! We never felt unsafe.
All the different neighborhoods in Rio organize their own carnival parties, called Bloque. The one that we enjoyed the most is called Sargento Pimiento: They play Beatles music with samba rhythm.
To know what’s going on in the city, you simply download an app that tells you what Bloque is performing where and what time. Great stuff.
These Bloques cause quite a bit of traffic jam, because the whole neighborhood gets shut down, but nothing compared to Highway 101 going to San Francisco on a Friday afternoon. And since we were moving around with Uber, not a big deal.
And of course there are a lot of night clubs with live music in town.
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We had great time in Ipanema at night. Great food and great live music! The Picanha we had at the Garota de Ipanema was the best so far!
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Meeting Alex Thomson
One of the highlights of the trip to Rio is that one day, out of the blue, a beautiful boat quietly moored next to us. To our surprise, it was the Hugo Boss IMOCA Open 60 race yacht skippered by Alex Thomson! Exactly the one that finished second in the last Vendée Globe, the solo around the world race that takes place every four years!
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Alex graciously agreed to have us visit the boat (which has just been sold to an undisclosed party). For me, it was a dream come true! I’ve followed last edition of the Vendée Globe very closely two years ago, when Alex arrived second because he damaged on of the foils.
The Vendée Globe is a 28,000 nautical miles course, and Armel Le Cléac’s managed to finish it two years ago in only 74 days. The race instructions are simple: Depart Les Sables d’Olonne in France, leave Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeywin and Cape HOrn to port, leave Antarctica to starboard and finish in Les Sables. More that 500 astronauts have been launched into space, fewer than 50 sailors have sailed solo, non-stop, around the world, without assistance. Alex is one of them! What an honor meeting him in person, casually, on the docks somewhere around the world…
After two weeks in Rio, we were tired but happy. It was time to go back. The sail back to Ilha Grande was a fantastic downwind sail.
We have an unfinished business in Rio. Visiting the museums. So we’ll be back! And next time, on Oroboro!