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Brazzil - Leisure - May 2004

Getting the Star Treatment in Brazil

As a red-blooded American male, I had never had a peeling, but
as they say, when in Rio, do as the Cariocas do. So, I made an
appointment for a peeling. How to describe it? Relaxing celestial
music, various creams, expert hands. My eyes were closed, but
when I got up to go on my way, I was refreshed and glowing.

Tom Moore

Rio Peeling

Picture Walk up the Morro da Urca

One of this gringo's favorite views in Rio (and of course there are many of them) is the view one gets sitting on the wall over the beach at Praia Vermelha (Red Beach). This is the little beach tucked in between the mountain that divides Leme from Urca, and the mountain which ends in the famous Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf).

On the right is the military club (Círculo Militar) which includes a nice kilo restaurant (food: acceptable and reasonably priced) and even a beauty salon (!), as well as bathrooms if you are in need, and on the left is the Gabriel Mistral Kindergarten (what a place to spend your early years in school), and beyond it the entrance to the Claudio Coutinho Trail, which runs above the cliffs by the sea under Sugarloaf.

This is a favorite walk for Cariocas (it appears in at least one feature film, the wonderful Pequeno Dicionário Amoroso by Sandra Werneck), and it was not so long ago that there was no guard fence over the cliffs, so the roughhousing teen or rambunctious child might have easily fallen over.

Here and there, there are benches on the water side, and on the other there are steep rock faces that one can clamber up, the sort that are easier and safer to go up than down. Only the technical climbers, of which there are many, go all the way up, but they have ropes.

On occasion one will see the little local monkeys (known as micos) in the trees by the path, and sometimes fruit has been left for them to enjoy. (An activity that a Carioca finds embarrassing is called a mico as well, and to make a fool of one's self publicly is to pagar o mico, pay the monkey).

About half way along there is a stream coming down the mountain, and it is here that the path which takes you up the mountain begins. If there has been a lot of rain it may be sloppy to go up, but otherwise it is passable by just about anybody who is in reasonably good shape physically, from the very young on up.

The path is not marked (except for a little yellow arrow pointing up at the very bottom) but is easy to follow. At some points you will need to use your hands (grabbing trees, steadying yourself) but it's not hard work, and will take you around twenty minutes to get up to the top.

Once you are there, there is a clearing with a nice view to the other side (overlooking the Enseada of Botafogo). Turn left and the path will take you uphill to the waystation for the cable cars to the top of Sugarloaf.

Here you can buy refreshments, but remember the prices are at least double what you would normally pay elsewhere. If you are too fatigued to walk back down you can buy a one-way ticket back down on the cable car. If you are still up for a little more exercise you can follow the trail back down to the point where you arrived at the ridge, and keep walking.

As you go up the hill the vegetation is a little more dense, but if you keep on going you will eventually arrive at the point where the vertical rock face of Sugarloaf meets the ridge you have been walking up. Here, there is a nice view out to both sides—the ocean and the bay.

Head back down to the Claudio Coutinho Trail and back to Praia Vermelha, where you can find some tasty calories to replace the ones you have just burned—bacon-flavored popcorn, curau, which is a sweet treat made with fresh corn, and lots of other besteiras (stupid things to eat). And finally, catch the bus back to your digs—the 107 for the center, or the 512 for Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon.

Go for a Spin on the Lagoa

On the eastern end of the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, near where the Corte do Cantagalo (Cock-crow Cut) goes over the mountain into Copacabana, the pedestrian walking around the lake will find a flotilla of swan boats waiting for boaters.

For a Bostonian, these will recall the swan boats on the little pond in the Public Garden (although those are pedaled professionally, and these are for you to pedal), and for the Wagnerian, the famous story about Lohengrin left behind on stage eyeing the departing avian, and quipping, "When does the next swan leave?"

These are one-bench swans, sporting a steering wheel, pedals for two, and space for a non-pedaling passenger in the middle. The rental is 20 reals/half-hour (around US$ 6.50), which seems like about as much pedaling as one might want.

The rental process is refreshingly unbureaucratic—you don't leave an ID, make a deposit with your credit card, pay in advance—nothing; and you don't need to take a life-preserver if you don't want one. Just hop in and go.

With a stiff wind behind you, your swan will whiz down to the other end of the lake in no time (it's not surprising that the usual Brazilian expression for things going well is de vento em popa—with the wind coming from the poop deck).

You could drop your passenger off at the docks by the Parque dos Patins, where there are various kiosks with different cuisines—my favorite, the Arabian kiosk.

Then you might still have some stiff pedaling to do to make it back to your point of origin, passing by the Flamengo Boat Club and the Caiçaras club, with a view of the fishermen by the canal that empties the Lagoa into the ocean.

Afterwards, replace all those calories you burned pedaling with some delicious sushi from the Sushinaka kiosk. Especially recommended—the tempura fish.

Listen to Jazz and MPB at the Leblon Lounge

The Rio Design Center on Ataulfo de Paiva, in Leblon, is a multi-story shopping for high-end interior design. Every Thursday evening, from 7 to 9 pm, the Leblon Lounge, an arts spot on the third floor of the center, hosts free performances of jazz and Brazilian popular music.

It is worth making the trip because the music is usually first rate. On my last visit there, I heard a trio of vocalist, guitar and acoustic bass in a set of American standards. The singer's English was so good I was convinced that she was a gringa, but in between numbers she spoke perfect carioca Portuguese.

The Lounge also hosts performances of classical music on occasion (amplified, due to the ambient noise/acoustics of the space). Get there early and grab one of the large comfy chairs.

Get a glimpse of the Lagoa from Sacopã

Close to where you went on the pedal-powered swan you will find the Parque das Catacumbas, also known as the Parque Carlos Lacerda. Not so long ago, when there were fewer luxury buildings lining the shore of the Lagoa, this park was the site of a favela housing about 10, 000 residents.

The favela was removed during the government of Negrão de Lima in 1970, which was continuing the policy of the government of Carlos Lacerda of relocating favela residents into newly constructed housing areas on flatter land (farther from employment, unfortunately). The area has been so thoroughly reforested it is impossible for the untrained eye to know there was ever a favela there.

Down at street level, there is a sculpture garden in an area that post-removal was the site of an amphitheatre presenting concerts of popular music. Walking up through the garden one comes to the trail taking you to the top of Sacopã. A twenty-minute walk takes you to a rock outcropping at 134 meters above the Lagoa, with an excellent view, and there is even a railing to prevent you from falling off.

On the way up there are informative signs on the history and flora in both Portuguese and English, and if you are in luck, there may be ripe acerolas you can pluck from the trees by the path. There are plenty of natives who have never bothered to make the brief trek up.

Treat Yourself to a Peeling at Sandra Gomes

Do you like to spoil yourself at the beauty salon? Or maybe, being male, you have never had a facial? We all know that Rio is home to some of the most beautiful women and handsome men in the world, and a fair number of them work acting in the novelas produced by Globo TV. Of course they are naturally stunning, but still it doesn't hurt to have beauty care by the best.

Sandra Gomes, whose office is at 550 Visconde de Pirajá, in Ipanema, is esthetician to the stars. As a red-blooded American male, I had never had a peeling, but as they say, when in Rio, do as the Cariocas do, so I made an appointment for a peeling with Sandra, who is a specialist in orthomolecular treatment.

How to describe it? Relaxing celestial music, various creams, the expert hands of Sandra Gomes. My eyes were closed, I was in another dimension, but when I got up to go on my way, I was refreshed and glowing. Fabulous! Unlike my other programs, it won't be free or inexpensive, but it might be a luxury you deserve.

Tom Moore has been fascinated by the language and culture of Brazil since 1994. He translates from Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian and German, and is also active as a musician. Comments welcome at mooret@tcnj.edu.

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