The statue is the highlight of Rio de Janeiro. From almost anywhere in the beautiful Bohemian city you can see the Christ watching over the whole world from the top of one of the Sugarloaf mountains, arms outstretched, a symbol of love and power. It is surreal, gorgeous. It is a visual statement of truth. God watches over the world. And on a day like this, utterly perfect, the whole world is out to see it.
It has been a day-long affair. Once we find paid parking at the Catholic church and walk to the train station we find every train booked until 5:30pm, six hour wait time. Portuguese flashes back and forth. Cabs? For 6 people? Difficult. Expensive. Van companies accost us, adding to the mesh of Portuguese. Crowds of people lounged in the square under the trees eating pastels, hiding from the pristinely blue sky overhead.
30 minutes pass, sitting in a crowded fifteen-passenger van, bumping up the winding mountain road, and barely skirting pedestrians. Finally we are at the ticket line. It stretches all the way around an abandoned factory to a concession stand.
look at my Weather app. 102 degrees. Full sun. Now I know what parasols are for.
Half the people in line have a blue umbrella with famous pictures of Rio on it. James buys me one. The blue of the umbrella melds perfectly with the blue of the sky. We join the line of umbrella shades against the wall of the factory by the concession stands, drinking peach juice and eating a traditional Brazilian fast food: fried bread filled with pulled chicken and cheese.
45 minutes later, we have come to the actual line for tickets. It zigzags five long times before it reaches the ticket kiosk. Thankfully there is a roof overhead, making the heat a velvety type of suffocation rather than an invisible fire. Two hours tick by. Standing is harder on your feet than walking. The ticket counter when we draw close is behind bullet proof glass, with just a slit to pass the credit card back and forth. The guards do not speak English, but through translation we find that now we have been trying to see the statue for three hours, we will have to wait another 2 hours for the bus to take us the rest of the way up the mountain. We gasp in unbelief.
I look up the route on my Google Maps.
“Hey guys, it’s only two-and-a-half kilometers up the mountain. That’s just a forty minute walk. Let’s just go. We get to see nature and have a nice walk.”
James’s mom and dad readily agree. His uncle and aunt get the senior pass to the front of the line for the bus, and the rest of us wind through the crowd to the road.
The climb is more intense than we thought. I feel embarrassed when folks in hiking garb pass me by, their step brisk, breath calm. I am sweating like a slug. We walk to the background music of the umbrella swooshing open when we hit a patch of sun, and swooshing closed when we hit shadow. The trees winding up on either side of us give a dense tropical shade. We get separated from James’s parents and miss their discovery of monkeys swinging around in the trees. Instead we keep our eyes low watching for extremely poisonous spiders that have haunted James since childhood and the Crocodile Hunter.
Forty-five minutes of incline, dodging the buses as they zoom down the hairpin curves, resting every once in a while under the trees, and we turn a curve and see it. The back of the statue, rising magnificent into the blue sky. It gleams white. Art deco style. Strong, straight lines.
A few more minutes and we are there. We run up the steps, flight after flight, and come to the base of the statue. James’s uncle has to lie flat to get a picture of us with the full scope. It is huge, staring out over the spectacular view of Rio de Janeiro. We could spend hours just looking over the railing at every little roof, the shining sugar-sand beaches, the green sugarloaf mountains, the picturesque favelas nestled in the hills, the sky over everything, the blue sea reflecting it.
It is worth every minute of the journey. Our whole party reunites and we stay there for an hour or more, visiting the chapel at the foundation of the statue, looking at every angle from the top of the highest mountain of Rio de Janeiro, snapping pictures and wishing the iPhone would process the feeling that we have standing on top of the world.
And then we feel the gentle patter of rain. The heat subsides to a comfortable warmth. The umbrella pops open again and I almost poke a bazillion people in the eye (including my poor 6’2” husband) as the crowd starts to move down the stairs. I am thankful for the umbrella as the rain intensifies, falling fast and hard in fat drops. The blessed rains come at least once a day here. We meet new friends from Brazil and Columbia and other parts of South America as people gather to shelter under our umbrellas in the line waiting for the buses.
Then we are zooming down the mountain in the rain, 2.5 kilometers in 5 minutes. We walk back to the Catholic church where the cars are parked. We drive back to the hotel to shower and change before we head to fill our hungry bellies and warm our spirits at a 5-star churrascaria, where the red wine, the simmering steak, and the artisan hors d’euvres meld with good memories.