Our drive to Houston went well and we caught our flight to Rio without an issue. Well, with one minor issue. I forgot to empty my vapur collapsible water bottle before going through security. They were nice enough to allow me to exit and go back through security after emptying it rather than just throw it out, so Jie took my backpack and my stuff from the x-ray bin and I exited security. Only after doing so did I realize that Jie now had both my wallet and passport, so I had an empty water bottle and boarding pass but no identification or phone. Fortunately, it was slow at security and they sent another agent back to get my passport from Jie and bring it up so I could be cleared again.
While I felt good about only spending a month at home between trips while sitting in Austin, a completely different sensation came over me on our 10+ hour flight to Rio. It seemed crazy to me that we were once again on an intercontinental flight and I had a really hard time sleeping, which is unusual for me. I started worrying again about how unknown South America is to us, unlike Europe where we'd taken multiple trips before our big one. While we may not have been to a specific city or country, we have the confidence to know we can navigate a new place successfully. I had no idea whether we would find it easy to get around in Rio, whether we'd feel safe, or whether we had completely over or underpacked for the trip.
To make a long story short, I need not have worried about any of it. We had a great time in Rio over the last three days and actually found it had a similar feel to Shanghai (very crowded, lots of little storefronts, mix of old and new, etc). We stayed on Copacabana Beach and Walter and I made the most of it, spending at least a couple of hours at the beach every day. You couldn't really swim right in front of our hotel, but you could go in waist deep and subject yourself to the constant pounding of the waves, which Walter thought was great fun. We also built several sandcastles at the edge of the beach and had a fun time shoring them up from the repeated beating they took from the waves.
Our second day in Rio was Jie's birthday. We didn't set alarms and inadvertently slept in until after 10a (6a Austin time), so given that we missed breakfast we ordered room service instead, which was a nice little treat. We planned to go up to Corcovado to see the Christ the Redeemer statue, but the weather wouldn't cooperate and the statue was obscured by clouds (meaning that from the statue you would neither be able to see the top of the statue nor the city below). In fact, we never even spotted the famous landmark during our entire stay in Rio. So instead we took the metro in to the center of town and walked around downtown Rio. It was packed with people and had a great energy, though it also seemed relatively run-down and there was construction everywhere. I have no idea how they're going to be ready for the Olympics in time.
After walking through Centro we decided to take the tram across the Lapa aqueduct to the Santa Theresa area. According to the guidebook the tram was closed in 2011 after an accident that killed 4 and injured 57 others when the tram actually flipped off the top of , but it was due to reopen in 2014. Upon arrival we found that the tram is free because it only just opened a month ago, so we were basically the test dummies for the reopened line. Lovely. In any event, we stayed on and took the tram into Santa Theresa where we had lunch. Unfortunately the tram doesn't go as far as it used to and we didn't have the energy to keep hiking up hill so we didn't see some of the sights within Santa Theresa like the famous steps.
Our last day in Rio we finally made it out of the hotel at a half-decent hour (10:30!) and took a taxi over to Sugar Loaf Mountain, the site of the famous gondola line that takes you to a peak where you overlook the bay and the city. We took both gondolas up to the top, getting some great views at the interim peak of Morro da Urca. Unfortunately, once we got to the top of Sugar Loaf we found ourselves inside a cloud. The skies cleared briefly and we did capture a few good photos, but on balance it was a bit of a bust. But hey, made us all the more glad we didn't trek all the way up to Corcovado. On the way back we hiked down from Morro do Urca to the base rather than taking the lower gondola again, which was a fun little hike through rainforest. Along the way our resident wildlife spotter (Jie) pointed out a giant lizard and a bunch of little monkeys (not sure whether marmosets or capuchin monkeys). Several of the monkeys were very interested in the croissant Walter was snacking on. Before they could get too close he shoved the entire thing in his mouth, so if he looks a little chipmonk-cheeked in the pictures you'll know why.
We rounded out our last afternoon by cabbing it over to Ipanema and the famous Garota de Ipanema, which is the bar where Jobim wrote the song, Girl from Ipanema. While touristy to the max, they also had a great steak dish that was served rare on a hot plate at your table, complete with a burner below. You could sear the meat to your desired level and then feast away. Afterwards we walked along Ipanema and Copacabana to our hotel before enjoying one last stint in the ocean.
All in all we had a great stop in Rio. We would have loved to make it up to Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado, but it was not to be. (Hey, at least we got to see the replica statue back in Lisbon!)