By Kerry L. Smith
Soaring twenty stories above the rippling shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean, the tops of the lush green trees of the Amazon jungle resemble clusters of broccoli. Inaudible are the sounds of roaming monkeys, birds and the rippling conversations between flowing waterfalls and the rocky nooks they caress. From the perch of a hang glider, only the forestâ€™s beauty is at hand.
Flying through the air in a tandem flight is possibly the best way to view the breathtaking beauty of Rio de Janeiroâ€™s tropical landscapeâ€”far up, up and away from the hubbub of Carnival parades or the roar of Jeep engines scaling dusty, rocky trails to the tops of various peaks throughout the mighty Amazon.
An estimated 1.7 million tourists come to Rio every year for the festival each February, when temperatures on the white sand beaches can reach 105 degrees. A majority of out-of-towners sign up for jungle tours to get a closer look at ancient ruins and marvel at the exotic landscape and animal life. However, adventurous travelers in-the-know sneak away from the well-hiked path to take a dip in hidden waterfalls: the icy water will cleanse their souls of bad energy. Occasionally, lit candles can be seen flickering in small pools of water throughout the jungleâ€”their presence is evidence of the CandomblĂ© religion, also known as voodoo.
Romantic photographs can be taken at the site of a Chinese pagoda peeking out from the jungle. From there, an unforgettable view of Rio and the three beaches of Ipanema, Leme and Copacabana are spread out below. One can see the towering statue of Christ the Redeemer, a gift from France that stands 100-feet tall atop Corcovado Mountain (the statue is currently in the running to be listed among the New Wonders of the World). People young and old from all over the world come to climb a lengthy stairwell that wraps around the mountain to bask in the glory of this enormous statue.
After the jungle tour, many take a stroll through the botanical garden nearby; the Jardim BotĂ˘nico is a sanctuary for over 8,000 species of plants and rare trees, as well as a scattering of ponds and greenhouses filled with colorful flowers. A budget-priced double occupancy hotel room in downtown Ipanema (the beach is just a 10 minute walk or a 5 minute drive away) can cost as low as $70 for five days. Food in Rio is tasty and cheap. One can survive on a diet of delicious black beans and rice, coconut juice (which is served straight up; street vendors cut a hole in the fruit with a machete and place a straw inside) and cups of an energy drink known as Acie (made from a combination of a native purple Amazonian fruit, crushed ice and oats).
Past numerous tiny shops selling brightly painted trinketsâ€”musical instruments, Carnival costumes, Brazilian bikinis and home decorationsâ€”is the very popular â€śfour corners,â€ť the location of the bar where the song â€śThe Girl From Ipanemaâ€ť was written. Here, patrons pull up a stool, order a cold Caipirinha, and shake their bon-bons to the sounds of Samba music flowing in through the open windows.