Sweepers, Samba, and Sugarloaf

Text: Christian Neuhauser • Photography: Christian Neuhauser

The flight was long - 8 hours from Miami - and although it was a night flight, I was too excited about the upcoming tour to sleep well. Drowsy, I staggered from the plane. A morning brew of warm, humid air swamped my face. A curtain of gray clouds concealed the mountains of Rio de Janeiro.

Ricardo, a Brazilmoto employee, picks Christa and me up at the airport and safely steers the blue Land Rover through heavy city traffic. Small motorcycles pass, flitting by on our left and right, the riders in shorts and shirts masterfully maneuvering their 175cc bikes at high speed between the cars. Finally we arrive at the Ipanema Plaza Hotel, which is in the district of Ipanema, a very hip place to be in Rio. Today, a rest day, gives us time to settle in, explore some and let the jet lag melt away.

Rio de Janeiro
An hour later Christa and I are strolling along the beach promenade. The weather is clearing and we can spot blue patches widening in the white and gray clouds. The beach is almost empty except for a few expert surfers slicing the wild tide. A familiar smell tickles my nostrils. "It's coffee time," I say, pulling Christa into the next café. Strong, tasty espresso. I order another and open my guidebook.

Millions of tourists visit Rio de Janeiro every year. The first Westerner to enter Brazil was Amerigo Vespucci. The Italian contracted to sail for the Portuguese empire arrived in Rio on the first of January 1502, entering what he thought to be the mouth of a river, hence the name Rio de Janeiro or River of January. Vespucci's river in reality is a 147-square-mile bay, still known by its Indian name, Guanabara, "arm of the sea."

Unlike the establishment of other European settlements, this was a very peaceful action. Portuguese and Tamoio Indians shared the land in tranquility until raids launched by French pirates prowling the coast eventually broke the peace. In 1555, a French fleet arrived with the intention of planting their flag in the first French settlement in the southern half of South America, but their efforts to colonize the coastline were largely unsuccessful.

During the 1700s, the gold rush in the neighboring state of Minas Gerais turned Rio into the colony's financial center. In 1763, the colonial capital was transferred from Salvador to Rio in recognition of Rio's newly won status.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the May/June 2005 back issue.