Arguably the most beautiful setting for a game of football is Ipanema, one of Rio’s most famous beaches and, as in the song, home to tall, tanned girls who walk like a samba.
Strolling down the golden carpet one cloudy morning, I was surprised to see the many cariocas (locals) suddenly stand up and put their hands together in a grateful ovation. The sun was coming out to play, and now it was our turn to do likewise. In Sector 9, under the all-seeing eye of Christ the Redeemer, we decided to debut our questionable soccer skills.
Remembering that God loves a trier, we prayed for some form of heavenly redemption. Sensing our weedy frames wouldn’t dazzle the ladies, but our pasty alabaster skin just might, we attempted a game of keepy uppy on the fringe of the glistening shore. With such company and surroundings we felt like we couldn’t put a foot wrong, but we did, over and over again. All the while, the Brazilians demonstrated a master class with more feints than us at the sight of the native ladies and clever deception unseen outside of the local craft markets.
Sensing an easy victory we were approached by a father and his grinning, talented offspring. “We play?” he asked, the literal translation more like ‘We play very well’, as I found myself being flamboyantly nutmegged at least three times by a child no older than a full compliment of toes.
Salvation almost arrived when I brilliantly evaded the son with a samba stumble, bossa nova-ed around the father with a deft hip swerve, and now had the goal at my mercy. My mind filled with thoughts of a celebration, blowing kisses to the girls of Ipanema and shaking air maracas at JC up above. Until, boom – reality intervened. The father had mercilessly upended me. As I protested against this violation of the beautiful game, golden sand tumbling from my nostrils, a consoling arm was placed round my shoulder. The toothy grin melted my indignation, making me smile, and secretly hope that the touch of class would rub off on my leg.
With dreams of scoring washed away by the retreating tide, we took solace in the local drink, caipirinha (a blend of cane spirit cachaça, lime and sugar), which did the trick.
The World Cup should bring financial gain for both Rio de Janeiro and Brazil, but long-term social benefits will remain the responsibility of a much-scrutinised government. While the event won’t necessarily solve the countries underlying social and economic problems, one thing is guaranteed: the effervescent residents of the Marvellous City will continue to smile, knowing that their playground and passions don’t cost a thing.
While the Rio natives wouldn’t be seen dead performing a move as uncool as the high five, there are a few other activities to be enjoyed from up high that they’d most certainly recommend
Climb a mountain
Known locally as Pão de Açúcar, Sugarloaf Mountain can be reached by two cable cars and, given the view of the beaches below, is perhaps where Barry Manilow drew inspiration for his Copacabana. Alternatively, indulge in some high-grade rock climbing to heights of 280 metres.
See Christ the Redeemer
Corcovado is the where you’ll find the big JC, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It offers unparalleled views over the city, where natural forms collide with urban sprawl. A cog train is the best way up, traversing through lush vegetation to its height of nearly 710 metres.
Take a running jump
Hang-gliding in Rio de Janeiro is the perfect way to see this city. Steep mountains allow for a multitude of take-off options and soft, sandy beaches make good landing zones. Originally the pastime of local thrill seekers, this is now a viable option for tourists, with tandem flights available.
Samba in the stadium
Maracanã stadium is where all four of Rio’s football teams play. Take to the top tier with the samba drummers and join in if you can decipher the chants. This famous stadium held 180,000 for the 1950 World Cup – but safety considerations will see the stadium renovated to hold closer to 120,000 for the 2014 World Cup.
Step up for a party
Set in the Bohemian sector of Rio, a long-time haunt of artists and lefties, are the Lapa Steps. The stairway is composed of 215 steps covered with a flamboyant mosaic of broken ceramic tiles leading up to the convent of Santa Teresa. Come Friday night, Lapa becomes the stuff of local party legend.
A SHORE THING
Brazil’s coastline is estimated to be 4650 miles long – so you might need some help in narrowing down the choice
Praia di Pipa
By day, explore the local countryside and windswept beach, ideal for windsurfing or surfing. By night, saunter around the small village containing craft shops, bars and restaurants.
Praia da Rosa
Here, you’ll find expanses of beautiful, empty beaches as well as excellent surf 150km south of Florianópolis. The waters off this region are a breeding ground for southern right whales, so there’s the chance for some wildlife spotting, too.
This is a popular resort for both locals and backpackers, with huge sand dunes to cartwheel down or simply watch the sun sink into. At the regular beach parties, drinks are sold from makeshift stalls and traditional music booms out of sound systems.
An island off the coast of Rio, where tropical beaches meet rainforest. It’s home to one of Brazil’s most beautiful beaches, reached via a two-hour trek across the island.
A combination of city and seaside resort, the beaches here are backed by miles of towering dunes, a playground for a number of activities ranging from sand boarding to horse riding.
As with football, another Brazilian passion which costs next to nothing, save for sore feet and the possibility of a dislocated hip, is Carnival. This is the very epitome of dance and music. Locals definitely agree with Nietzsche that ‘without music, life would be a mistake’, although they are keen to stress that this doesn’t include Manilow’s Copacabana, which was a monumental one.
Rio de janeiro
The world-famous Rio de Janeiro Carnival takes place in February, before Lent. The showpiece is the Escola de Samba, where glittering, lavish floats parade through the purpose-built Sambodromo. Half a million tourists turn up to watch the spectacle, coupled with millions more locals.
What’s known as the ‘out of season’ carnival takes place at the end of July. The procession dances alongside a music truck with famous local bands perched on top. Many of the 1.5 million revellers who grace the four-day party wear garish T-shirts giving allegiance to a particular band. This amounts to lurid technicolour that would make Joseph luminous green with envy.
Salvador de bahia
Each February, to celebrate the beginning of Lent, Afro-Blocos (carnival floats) consisting of drumming troupes and tireless dancers, parade along an eight-mile circuit culminating in the Encontro dos trios (meeting of the bands). Over one and a half million people flood the streets at any one time. Participation is encouraged.