I think it was the eighth elbow in my arm that did it. If not, it was definitely the fourth person who stepped on my foot. If all else failed though, it was the third idiot I tripped over who was sprawled out on the floor, as if trying to see up Cristo’s skirt.
* * *
We didn’t see Christ the Redeemer that first night, when we drove through the city. I had read that you could see the landmark from just about everywhere in town, but thunderstorms greeted us upon our arrival in Rio de Janeiro rendering our pursuits useless.
We wanted to go up Corcovado, the name given to the mountain upon which the iconic statue of ‘Cristo Redentor’, or Christ the Redeemer, is perched. We’d even done our research over the years; being big fans of The Amazing Race and An Idiot Abroad we felt as if we couldn’t go to Rio and not go up to say hello to Cristo. I mean, how could you refuse visiting a pylon, as Karl Pilkington so eloquently put it?
I just think of the people who live in Rio. They’ve got that there every day when they leave the house, they see it. Ugh it’s there again, sick of seeing it, it’s like a pylon to them, that.
So a couple of weeks before we got to Rio, we booked tickets for the 10.30am Corcovado train on our first morning in town.
They say it is always sunny in Rio. ‘They’ are wrong. We set off from our hotel on foot that morning, being only half an hour away from where the train was to depart. Twenty minutes in it started raining harder than my little pocket umbrella could deal with and we ended up flagging down a cab to take us the rest of the way.
The train station was pretty much deserted when we got there, and a perky person in a red coat and bright scrunchie confirmed the bad news. ‘You can go up, but it looks like this,’ she gestured at a nearby TV screen, which was indeed completely white. She told us not to worry though, as our tickets were valid for a month. So off we toddled to find another cab back into town, content with giving Cristo another go on our last morning in Rio.
And we loved Rio. We truly did; the beaches, the tiled streets, the fact that everyone actually did wear Havaianas, the works. And thankfully, the weather began to clear that first evening and we were able to catch a glimpse of Cristo for the first time, right from our hotel room.
On our second-last day in the city we decided that we may as well give Cristo a second try. We (meaning Paul) figured it was a bit risky to wait until our very last day so we got up extra early and found ourselves at the train station at just after eight. The next tickets, we were told, were for three in the afternoon.
I was cranky, and not for the only time that day. I was mad at the perky person for not telling us that we needed to reserve a spot again (and only for the same day; we enquired as to booking for the next day but that wasn’t possible) and I was mad at all the other people for also wanting to go up the mountain and I was mad that I was going to have to waste my precious little time in Rio visiting this little train station in the middle of nowhere THREE TIMES.
Thankfully, Paul was the more sensible one amongst the two of us. He thanked the not-as-perky-person for the tickets, moved us away from the masses and pretty much told me to get over it. And I did.
We returned at about 2.30pm, to be greeted with scenes like this.
Apparently nobody had gotten on the last couple of scheduled trains, and the crowds were backing up. There was no queue, probably due to a match being played on the big screens nearby, so people would just mill around until they’d hear another train approach. This, as you would imagine, meant total pandemonium, with people waving around tickets with an assortment of departure times and shouting what I assume to be ‘pick me, pick me’ in a dozen languages.
Thankfully we ended up standing in the right spot at the right time, and when the staff were looking for two more people for the next train, I batted my eyelashes and generally tried to look more sane than the Chileans jumping up and down beside me.
And so we got on the train, leaving most of the 3pm (and 2.40pm) people behind us. We were mighty chuffed with ourselves and I likened it to getting on the last lifeboat on the Titanic.
We were so proud that we even posed for happy snaps on the train. The ride up – which lasts almost half an hour – was wonderful. You could easily forget that you were in the middle of a 6 million-strong city; no, I felt like I was in the middle of a jungle.
My smile disappeared though, when we got off the train. We were met with Cristo’s back, which was cool. But we also spied the queue for the train to go back down again. As we got closer and closer to Cristo, we passed more and more people facing the other direction, all unmoving and impatient.
I had never seen so many people at a tourist attraction before. I tried guessing how many people were in the postage stamp-sized viewing area; a thousand? Two thousand? Three or four? I have no idea. I am short, so most of the time I just saw people’s backs. When I would look up, I would see Cristo through other’s iPhone screens.
Again, I shook myself and told myself to find something, anything, redeeming (see what I did there?) about this whole venture. I certainly wasn’t going to get anywhere by giving dirty looks to teenagers posing seductively with American flags. I remembered the whole nice view thing and pushed (yes, I did push) my way to an available square centimetre which offered this before me.
I stood there for a while, utterly transfixed. For a few moments, I could block the crowd out and feel as if I had the view all to myself. It really is a wonderfully picturesque city, as if the man-made elements have just always been there, caught between the cliffs, beaches and greenery.
But then another elbow, quickly followed by an expert push and shove, zapped me back into my reality. I excused myself from the heaving swell and fought through to I don’t know where exactly, just somewhere away from where I was. Suddenly it dawned on me that I had no idea where Paul was.
A few slightly frantic minutes later, I found him. He was trying – extremely unsuccessfully, might I add – to get a selfie with Cristo. His dozen or so attempts can be summarised by just three and demonstrate why I love him to bits.
He could have still been up there had I not broken his focus and convinced him that more attempts would be fruitless. He even tried taking one of me, which is so bad that I can’t believe it survived the deleting frenzy later that night.
We decided to call it quits then. We weren’t enjoying ourselves and apart from those few precious moments when I enjoyed the view of Rio, all I could think about was the tedious process of getting down again. Continuing our run of relatively good luck, our decision coincided with Corcovado being completely engulfed in clouds. This was probably not so awesome for the people just getting to the summit then (ahem, including all the people on our scheduled train) but I thought it looked amazing.
All up, we spent about five hours and 55 Real visiting Christ the Redeemer, of which about twenty minutes was spent actually wandering around the mountaintop. I didn’t particularly enjoy myself, even looking back with rose-coloured glasses. I felt like I was on a conveyor belt, doing something because you feel like you have to.
Would I recommend visiting Cristo? Well, as soon as the World Cup’s over I’m guessing crowds will die down somewhat. But Rio is a city on the up, with the World Cup increasing its exposure and undoubtedly bringing it more tourists in the coming years.
In the end, I kind of agree with Karl. Cristo is kind of like a pylon. From down below, you get all excited about seeing him in different corners of the city, watching over with that calming gaze. But up on his level, it’s all about turning your back to him and soaking up the views. You know what he’s going to look like, so it ain’t like admiring Michelangelo’s David close up. He’s just bigger.
I would recommend a viewpoint in Rio, of which Corcovado is one of them. Sugarloaf Mountain (Bondinho in Portuguese) is another famous one, which can be reached by cable car. Whichever one you pick, book online and go early. Crowds build up during the day, like we saw. We booked a few weeks ahead because of the World Cup, meaning that we didn’t see the weather forecast. Otherwise, a couple of days should do it, so you don’t have to line up again anyway and repeat our experience.
Which, strangely enough, I’ve now written almost two thousand words about. Deep down, I must have enjoyed myself. I must have…