Thursday, January 28, 2010

You know those things you've always wanted to do…

…well these were two of mine.

THE MARACANÃ

There are many stadia of the world which ring out and grab your attention. There is the Nou Camp, MCG, Yankee Stadium and, I can't not mention it, Wembley. For football fans no other does it quite as fervently as the Maracanã.
Home of Flamengo, Fluminese and the heart of Brazilian football. A mammoth stadium that once held 200,000 people for a match, has hosted a World Cup Final and will do so again four years from now. An anti-climax of not being able to get tickets to a match (short of walking into one of the dodgiest parts of one of the dodgiest cities in the world with $500 in my pocket and lady in tow – nope), was at least partially made up for by a stadium tour.

Rising up from the urban valley floor, the scale of the place imposes itself upon you from first sight. Our nerves tingled as we entered the colossus. Excited tension rose as we made our way through the building and up the steps and then….bam…..a great theatre of the world spread before us with, as ever, Christ the Redeemer watching down from above like a Christmas tree fairy.
Then down onto the pitch, a touch of the hallowed turf, a jokey dig at the locals about the Maracanã 's most famous game (Uruguay beat Brazil one nothing in the 1950 World Cup Final – the guy showed me the spot were the goal went in) and out with a feeling of job done.

JUMP INTO THE UNKNOWN

I am a minor junky for adrenaline sports and one I have always wanted to do is hang gliding. As fortune would have it Rio is one of the best places in the world to do it. Put together good thermals, all year round weather, plenty of gliding addicts, stunning scenery, high stuff to jump off and being there and I had no excuse.
An early pick up on my penultimate day in this beautiful part of the world. Through Ipanema, past the two brothers and up into the hills. Round and round as we gain height through the trees, jump out the car and soak in the world below from 400m up. Angling slightly downhill, a few metre wooden runway breaks out of the surrounding rainforest to a sheer drop (as the guy said, you do not want to be tripping on take off…). Without wings you'd hurtle into forest far below, which sweeps down before on each side curving up to more hills and in front dropping to the odd mansion, a street of high rise, the beach and the Atlantic.

I strapped in with my Brazilian buddy, took some limited instruction and….três….dois….um…VAMOS…

I ran for all I was worth, legs still moving in the air as the runway ended, we dropped and then swooped up into the air. An exhilarating sensation.

Relaxation. At peace with the world as you circle round and round the thermals with only the birds for company. I talk to the dude about his past accidents to try and get the adrenaline pumping, but no use. Just tranquil and all the better for it.

A full 360 of a large section of Rio, round and round. A fantastic perspective of this throbbing city of forest and concrete. Pools of the rich below, yet just ahead, with the best views in the city, a sprawling favella. An odd place indeed.

We soured for goodness knows how long and I loved it. Then ready for landing, he took us in full pace to the beach and, at the last second, lifted up and with a little trot it was all over.

High fives and a Brazilian beer.
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