Man In A Suitcase

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

What, I hear you ask, were you doing in Brazil? Hardly the usual destination for an American, even one as well traveled as yours truly. This time the answer wasn't business; although my firm has a subsidiary in Brazil they haven't yet seen fit to request my presence. (Do they know less than all the subsidiaries that have hosted me? Or more? Enquiring minds want to know...)

No, this was purely recreational. Combine several weeks of unused vacation time, a desire to fill in a few gaps in my geographic experience and a whole bunch of soon-to-expire American Airlines miles, allow to simmer for about a year and serve in December, just as the weather in the Bay Area turns ugly. And here, dear reader, are the results.

The first stop on my tour was Rio de Janeiro or, to be more accurate, the beach area of Copacabana. Rio's beaches are everything I'd been led to expect, with miles of white sand, blue water, bright sun, high humidity and an incredible number of beautiful dark women, many of whom favored swimwear made from dental floss. Never before has so little been worn by so many to such great effect (with apologies to Winston Churchill).

My hotel was at the southern end of Copacabana, just a couple of blocks from the eastern end of Ipanema. Even more miles of beach to explore! And to think that all of this was nearly inaccessible thanks to a range of mountains that separate the beach areas from the rest of Rio. That problem was solved in the late 1950's with the construction of a couple of miles of tunnel. So now the beach is accessible to all the beautiful people and not merely the fabulously wealthy. Not that there's anything wrong with fabulous wealth, mind. Heck, I wouldn't mind giving it a try myself. I hear it grows on you.

All the best views aren't at the beach. A mile or so inland there's a lagoon with five miles of walking and bike paths and other facilities for those more energetic than I, especially on a hot December day. I limited myself to walking around the lagoon, camera in hand, looking for just the right angle to capture Corcovado Mountain and the famous statue of Jesus at the top. Three hours after I began my walk I finally made it back to my hotel, where I could relax and make a careful study of the primitive rites of the sun worshipers around me.

I did eventually leave the beach and see a bit of Rio itself. It's an impressive city, with a population only a little smaller than New York and its share of remarkable architecture. It's also another neat historical error. There's no river in Rio de Janeiro, although it may indeed have been January when they thought there was. Which makes about as much sense as referring to native Americans as Indians or calling those sanctimonious idiots in Congress our representatives.

I was impressed by the sight the building on the left, which isn't a Mayan temple at all but the largest Catholic church in the world. Dedicated to San Sebastian, this giant cone has bench seating for you and 25,000 of your closest friends. A nice, intimate place to get close to your creator. It makes quite a contrast to the local Red Cross headquarters, a rather more traditional example of Portuguese architecture.

Rio is famous for its harbor, which is best appreciated from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. Getting to the top is a two stage affair, with the first cable car taking you to the top of Urca. A mere 500 feet up, this gives you some magnificent views of the area and, for those braver than I, a chance to see it all from the cabin of a helicopter. One of these days...

Riding in these cable cars is particularly exciting, both for the views and the thought that the only support for your car is at the two ends of the ride. But eventually you arrive, more than 1200 feet above the city. The magnificent curve of Copacabana glows in the afternoon sun, the water glistens and all seems right with the world. Even the Sydneysiders were in awe; and it takes a lot to impress them!

Foz Do Iguaçu, Brazil

My next port of call was Iguassu Falls, where a series of rivers define the borders of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. If Niagara has been described as a young bride's second major disappointment, visitors to Iguassu need have no such concerns. These falls are taller, more numerous (there are 275 separate cascades over two miles) and far more impressive than anything I saw in Upstate New York. By the way, I'd advise against attempting the local libation, a vile concoction made from limes, sugar and a liquor made from sugar cane. I'm just grateful I stopped at two...

The best way to see the falls is up close and personal. There's a pontoon boat that's a unique experience. (My clothes were still drying two days later.) But getting there involves a trek through the rainforest, complete with the most amazing collection of butterflies I've ever seen on the wing. And then there are the coati, the oddest looking creatures I've seen since my visits to Australia. Remarkably comical and friendly, these creatures were a high point of the trip. Makes you wonder why Varig hasn't tried a Qantas-style ad campaign. Then again, it's a whole lot easier to get a koala to sit still for a picture...

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 Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California