Well what a difference a day makes. The first days in Rio had been spectacular, cloudless blue skies and very warm temperatures. Now while the temperatures were still warm, the clouds had moved in and rain was in the forecast for the afternoon. We were just hoping to make it through our morning tour without rain.
Anyway, Tom and I checked out early from our fabulous hotel on Copacabana Beach (we would be leaving for Iguazu Falls later today) and met Ederson at 7:30 a.m. for a trip to Niterói. Niterói is east of Rio across a 13 km bridge built in the late 1960s early 1970s. We were going to Niteroi primarily to see the Mac Niterói (the Niterói Museum of Contemporary Art), which was designed by famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer (who also designed the Rio Sambadrome) and was completed in 1996. The museum looks like something out of Star Trek and could easily pass for the USS Enterprise. The museum did not open until 10:00 a.m. so Ederson suggested we go for a bit of a drive through Rio to see some parks and a mural painted on the side of a building that Ederson insisted was well worth the visit.
So we left the lovely Copacabana area, and drove towards the city center passing a gorgeous waterfront park where the locals were out running and working out on various exercise machines welded in place and provided free of charge by the city of Rio.
We passed old churches, the original palace used by Portugal’s royal family (which was also Brazi’s Royal family), as well as the sculpture that was the 2014 Summer Olympic flame. We then turned down a street towards the waterfront and Olympic Boulevard where we stopped short of a huge parking garage to see this mural that Ederson said was well worth it. And once again, Ederson was right on. The mural was incredible.
The mural had been been created for the Rio 2016 Olympics by artist Eduardo Kobra and was called “We are all One”. The mural featured five tribes, one from each continent: the Huli (Oceana), the Mursi (Africa), the Karin (Asia), the Suni (Europe) and the Tapajós from the Americas. Tom and I wandered around were absolutely blown away by the mural. The paintings were vivid and colourful and portrayed so much character in the faces of the people featured. Really, really brilliant murals.
After viewing the murals, Ederson drove us past the Volongo Wharf, an old dock located in the port area of Rio de Janeiro that was the landing and trading site of enslaved Africans. It is believed that at least 500,000 slaves landed in Volongo. In 2011, during the excavations that were part of a revitalization efforts in the Rio dock area, the Volongo and Imperatriz wharfs were discovered with a large number historic artifacts. In 2017, the wharf was designated a World Heritage Site in 2017. The site was a sobering return to reality.
We then continued through the streets of central Rio to a lovely park that housed the Museu Nacional (the National Museum, which was one of the largest natural history and anthropology museums in the Americas). We were supposed to visit this museum today, but unfortunately a massive fire destroyed the interior of the museum and all of the irreplaceable artifacts last month. The museum was located in one of the former palaces of the Portuguese royal family inside the Quinta da Boa Vista. However, the framework of the building housing the museum was still close to intact so Tom and I agreed that we wanted to see the exterior of the museum.
We wandered through the gorgeous park passing a small canal, trees in bloom (it is spring here) and trees full of parakeets before we began a walk up hill to the museum. Now from the exterior, the museum simply looked like it was undergoing renovations as most of the exterior looked like it had not been affected by the fire. However as we moved closer you could clearly see char marks on the windows and windows that had been either blown out or smashed when trying to put out the fire.
We walked past the museum and then cut through the park making a complete circle so that we ended up back where we started. We then climbed back into the car and Ederson began the drive to Niterói over the looooong 13 km bridge. We reached Niterói and were astonished at how pretty the city was. Lots and lots of parks, pretty buildings and gorgeous white sand beaches with hardly any people. A huge contrast from the heavily populated Ipanema and Copacabana beaches.
We drove along the waterfront and eventually stopped at a small bridge where we were able to hop out and take some pictures of the very unusual Niterói Museum of Contemporary Art. (I swear to God I wanted to start humming the theme to Star Trek …. The building really looked like the USS Enterprise.)
There was also an amazing mural along the waterfront depicting the capture of a slave in the Niterói area in 1836.
Anyway, after the pictures, Ederson drove us to the museum where we climbed the winding ramp and walked into the building. My first reaction was “What the F”? The “art” in the center gallery was a display from Brazilian artist Sonia Gomes. The description of her work provided in part “Her work deals with the experimentation and appropriation of materials that previously could be considered as less than important. However in her hands they transform themselves ….” My question was … “transform themselves into what? “
The art was recycled stuff that look like a bunch of garbage on the walls. Now maybe I am missing my art gene, but there was NO WAY this was anything I would consider as art. Piccaso is art. Chagall is art. This was a bunch of trash. Good grief.
So after walking around this gobbledigoop, Tom and I walked upstairs to the next exhibit, the Anna Bella & Lydia & Mira & Wanda exhibit named after the four female artists featured upstairs. Now as Tom and I were walking up the stairs, each of us tripped on the top step. Apparently the contractor screwed up the stairs and the last step had a greater space between the steps. Now both Tom and I were using this as an excuse, but there was another reason. As we were climbing the stairs, a woman at the top of the stairs was giving us the evil eye. Now normally I wouldn’t care, but this woman (who was not in the best of shape to put it mildly) was not wearing an awful lot. In fact, it appeared that she was wearing one of Ms. Gomes reclaimed pieces of art. It was nothing more than bands of string leaving vast amounts of her breasts, stomach, legs and butt exposed. And it was not pretty.
As the woman continued to stare at us, I wanted desperately to take a picture of her, but sadly never had the chance because by the time Tom and I recovered from the shock of her outfit, she was down the stairs and out of sight. I went into a fit of laughter. What the heck was that?
And the exhibit upstairs made me laugh even more. There were blocks of wood deemed “sculptures” and canvas painted one colour with a simple gold stripe or triangle. I think we only saw two paintings that could be classified as art. As Tom noted, if he could paint the picture, it’s not art. I couldn’t agree more! So while the building was an amazing creation, the contents suuuuuuuucked!
We left he museum and drove along the rest of the gorgeous waterfront not seeing another tourist in sight but taking in the amazing views back towards Rio. Now at this point, the clouds had really rolled in and had completely hidden Christ the Redeemer and were doing their best to obscure Sugarloaf Mountain.
We continued on through Niterói and then back and forth up, up, up the narrow hillside roadway through heavily wooded areas and past gorgeous hillside homes to the Parque Natural Municipal de Niterói which sat at 885 feet above sea leve. Once we reached the park, we took in the magnificent views of Niterói and looked hard to find Rio though the heavy cloud cover. When we drove back down, we saw a vulture by the side of the road, but were not fast enough to catch it on camera.
Anyway, our last stop of the morning was Fortaleza de Santa Cruz da Barra, aka Santa Cruz fort, built in 1612. Now the area around Rio, just like Salvador, is surrounded by many old forts, which were built by the Portuguese to protect their settlements from invaders like the Dutch and French as well as pirates.
In order to reach the fort, we had to drive past the Niterói fishing port and a series of waterfront restaurants. The fishing port was absolutely wonderful with colourful fishing boats, which Tom and I agreed reminded us of the fishing boats you would see in the Algarve in Portugal.
We continued past the port and the colourful favela (what the Brazilians call their projects or slum areas) on the hillside overlooking the bay and then along a very narrow waterfront road to an entrance to the fort. Now the fort is still controlled by the Brazilian military today so we had to do a check in of sorts before being permitted to enter the area where the fort is located.
After we parked the car, we wandered around looking at the fort and the various cannons that surrounded the waterfront area outside the fort. Unfortunately, the next tour of the fort wasn’t until 12:00 p.m. and it was only 11:30. We also had to be back at the hotel by 2:00 p.m. to meet the driver the hotel had arranged for us to take us to the airport so we had to opt out of the tour and simply enjoyed the views from the fort before beginning the hour long drive back to the hotel.
Once at the hotel, we said goodbye to our fabulous guide Ederson. He had been absolutely lovely, provided us with information along the way about the sights and the city and was a superstar for getting us up to see Christ the Redeemer ahead of the massive crowds.
Tom and I then decided to go for some lunch since we had over an hour before we had to leave. After I changed out of my shorts and was about to go find Tom, a gentleman approached me wearing an airport limo service shirt advising me he was our driver for the trip to the airport. I thought it was odd that he was so early (it was only 12:45) so told him we would meet him back at the hotel at 2:00 p.m. He nodded, and then I went to find Tom. We decided to walk down the street to a restaurant, but we no sooner sat down than the driver I had just talked to appeared and kept saying “1:00 p.m. we go”. Unfortunately, he did not speak any other English so he eventually dialed a number and handed me the phone. The fellow on the other end told us we were booked for 1:00 p.m. not 2:00 p.m. so Tom and I ultimately decided to leave for the airport and eat there even though I was certain I had told the hotel 2:00 p.m.
Once our luggage was loaded in the van, the driver kept motioning to me and saying voucher, voucher. I had no idea what he was talking about. Then a lightbulb finally went on for me. I had originally booked drivers through an airport limo company to pick me up on Sunday and to take me and Tom to the airport today, but after a myriad of bounce back emails and phone calls over the past two weeks with no response from them, I presumed the company had gone out business. In fact, their website no longer existed and no one from the company was at the airport to meet me on Sunday night so I had ended up booking a driver from the hotel. Nevertheless, the original company had somehow resurrected itself and decided to provide us with the previously booked service.
After clearing up the confusion, we advised the hotel we did not need a driver and finally set off for the airport. After arriving safely and checking in, we ate some lunch before boarding the plane for our next destination, Iguazu Falls. Here’s hoping the weather forecast (60% chance of rain) is wrong.