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Brazil

Day 46: Rio de Janeiro

 
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The world's most famous beach. Copacabana at the weekend. The uniform red parasols are an important part of its style.
Michael Palin - BrazilFrom my hotel window twenty-five floors up, I look down onto the long golden curve of Copacabana. The waves breaking on the shore have their counterpoint in the undulating pattern of black and white mosaic tiling which swirls across Copacabana's pavement. It was commissioned from the landscape artist Roberto Burle Marx in 1970, a reminder that this is no ordinary beach. It is perhaps the most famous beach in the world. And not always for the right reasons. I spent a night here in 1996, whilst changing planes from Cape Town to Chile on my way to the South Pole, and I can remember it being a threatening place. Stories of muggings were constantly exchanged. This time it looks and feels much better. Money has been spent on the beachside cafés and bars and last night when I walked out there seemed far less aggression than I remembered.

Right now it's early on a Sunday morning and already the great industry that is Brazilian beach life is moving into action. Trucks have shipped in their loads of green coconuts which are being stacked up at beachside cafés and bars. Red sunshades are mushrooming right along the four-kilometre sweep of sand, and the purveyors of chairs and towels and refreshments are trolleying their wares across the Avenida Atlântica, the six-lane highway which runs between the crescent of hotels and apartment blocks and the beach itself. One of the carriageways is closed today and a mix of joggers, walkers and cyclists have already taken possession. They are people of all ages, shapes and sizes. Grey-haired ladies in bikinis, tight-buttocked roller-bladers, large men with breasts and bellies swinging out over a minuscule pair of Speedos, nearly naked eighty-four-year-olds hand in hand, bodybuilders flicking their heads as they go. All embodying one of Brazil's most delightful characteristics – a complete absence of embarrassment.

I've been out early, running in and out of the breaking waves, and I've had a coco gelado to refresh myself. I enjoy watching the ritual as the green husk is slashed open, then putting in the straw and drinking the sweet cold contents. I'm told they're rich in potassium, which makes them very good for hangovers. Not that I've been here long enough to get one.

I have breakfast at the top of the hotel with the 360-degree view that takes in not just the golden beaches but the mass of apartment blocks that makes Copacabana one of the most densely populated urban areas in the world. And up on the hills behind, where surely the most expensive real estate should be, are the famous, or infamous, favelas, the unplanned, unregulated settlements where the poor of Rio live with the best view of the sea. And now I can see crowds beginning to gather just below us. Rainbow-coloured streamers and clusters of pink balloons herald what is expected to be the biggest Gay Pride march of the year. And one in which I am to take part.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 46: Rio de Janeiro
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Rio de Janeiro
  • Book page no: 192

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