After the excitement of carnival, when Tati and her friends had returned to work, Max and I did those touristy things that you are supposed to do in an alien city. On one day we walked up through the jungle – Max in his walking shoes, me in my flip-flops – and after climbing for 2 hours and expending about 20 litres of sweat, we arrived at the ‘Cristo Redentor’, the enormous statue of Christ that looks out over all of Rio de Janeiro.
We assumed that the reward for walking up to the statue – as opposed to taking the bus or the purpose-built train – would be free entry to actually seeing it. Alas, this was not the case, and we hadn’t brought enough money for both of us to get in, we were precisely 5 Reales short.
At first we tried to plead with the man at the turnstile to let us in, explaining our predicament in English, then Spanish, then atrocious Portuguese (Spanish but with more nose). Our efforts were in vain, not helped by the fact that that we looked like tramps with sweaty matted hair, dirt from the path all over our legs, and a large Mickey-Mouse-shaped salt deposit on our t-shirts. For a while we considered selling something. Our lunch? No, the rolls were all squashed and looked exceptionally unappetising. Our maps? No, they were ripped and caked in sweat. Our selves? No, nowhere to do the dirty deed.
In the end we decided that we either had to leave Christ unseen, or beg for money. It took us about 40 minutes of approaching people and then ducking out at the last moment before we finally asked someone for money. Never before had I realised how shameful it feels, the utter embarrassment of asking someone for their money for nothing in return. We would hang around the turnstiles and wait until we heard English being spoken, then latch onto the target group and start talking to them. They always looked at us suspiciously, not so much because we wanted to talk to them but because they were invariably clothed in designer sportswear or t-shirts saying ‘I heart Rio’ while we were dressed in ripped and dirtied t-shirts.
After a minute or so of talking I would explain that we were in an embarrassing predicament and if it wasn’t too cheeky to ask could they possibly give us a couple of Reales. Their faces would invariably drop – we’d only wanted to talk to them for their money – and they’d reluctantly and dismissingly hand over a couple of Reales. Twice I was too embarrassed to ask for more than 1 Real and so we ended up having to beg 4 different people before we had enough to get in.
So we spent our last bit of money, and a bit more, on the entrance tickets. The big Christ is impressive, but a bit tacky, and there’s so many people jostling to get the classic picture (arms out like Christ) that it’s difficult to contemplate the view, which is phenomenal. Rio de Janeiro must be the most beautiful city in the world.
Without any money we faced a 15km hike back to Lapa, in the opposite direction to the way we had come up. So we set off on our trek using the one road that went up to the Christ. We would probably have to pass through favelas, and we were both carrying our cameras – mine an SLR – and so we started out a little apprehensive.
But the walk turned out to be quite wonderful, one of the highlights of the trip, for we passed through an unimaginably beautiful part of Rio that is hidden high up in the mountains. It is made up of colonial houses – multicoloured or in adobe white – that look out sleepily over the whole city. Amongst these houses run cobbled streets that sigh with the sound of encroaching jungle and the far-off drums of some samba troupe. This is Santa Teresa, and I vowed right there and then that one day I would return and live in this city, in these mountains, amongst these streets.
In some parts, when the slopes become too steep for conventional houses, curious structures of corrugated iron and breezeblocks and plaster grow out of the rock. These are the ‘favelas’, where the poorest people live. Rio is probably the only city in the world where the poorest people have the best view.
Towards the end of the hike we started to feel a bit wheezy, a result of not having drunk any water since the climb up to the Christ. We were looking for the famous multicoloured steps of Lapa but ended up heading straight back to the apartment, where we collapsed in a heap of stink and sweat.