It’s just a pin prick of light as the plane touches down. It reminds me of the phosphorescent idol of St Christopher that glowed in the corner of my childhood bedroom. But this is no ordinary idol. This is Cristo Redentor: Christ The Redeemer himself. And we have come in search of him.
Our guide the next afternoon is a cheerful Brazilian native whose command over the English language is admirable, even though his pronunciation leaves much to be desired. As my daughters dissolve into fits of giggles, every time he points out a landmark, and says, “Beauty in(built in) 17… “, he is nevertheless, knowledgeable and fills us in on not just the history, but a lot of the local flavour as well.
He points out the Carioca aqueduct, an impressive structure built in the 18th century to bring fresh water from the Carioca river to the population of the city. We are amazed to see a statue of Gandhi in a busy square. Our guide speaks warmly of the Brazilian people’s admiration of the Mahatma and their fascination for all things Indian.
Having bought tickets for Corcovado, we start the winding journey up to the summit. Excited, the girls jump out of the car and race ahead. We follow at a slower pace, chilled in the breeze and somewhat awed at finally being able to view this 98 foot structure that looms large over the city. Alas! It is only a glimpse that we are afforded. A low cloud cover hampers our view. Like all other tourists, we wait in vain to photograph this magnificent landmark. A German tourist even lies on his back, camera strategically pointed to Christ’s face. Momentarily, the clouds part to reveal, what seems to me, a glowering Cristo Redentor. I snap a few quick ones, when just as quickly, he is shrouded again. Perhaps he’s just not in the mood.
Sensing our disappointment, our guide talks up the next attraction. Pao de Acucar or Sugarloaf Mountain, named for its resemblance to a loaf of sugar, is a truly scenic spot. The glass cable cars(bondinho) make their ascent quickly, and surrounded by a gaggle of excited college students, we feel similarly infected. The panoramic views of the city are breathtaking. With a winding coastline, beautiful lagoons, twinkling lights of the boats, Copacabana beach to the south and Corcovado to the west, we take advantage of every photographic opportunity. And the Redeemer coruscates in the distance.
On our final day in Rio, after having visited the famous beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, eaten churros and sampled capirinhias, we relax in the peaceful environs of Jardim Botanico. Even as we exclaim over the abundance of exotic flora, I cannot help but register the clear day, and the distant, seemingly benevolent presence of Christ that is hovering some 2000 odd feet above us.
With a strange sense of regret we leave this cidade maravilhosa (marvellous city). We have to return, if only to tryst with Cristo.