Personal Journeys

September 26, 2004

A Memorable Place

Sensuous spells blend in Rio de Janeiro

BY: Sally Shivnan


I have wondered about Rio de Janeiro - what accounts for the spell it casts over people.

It's a city of mountains rising out of the ocean. (Rio has more than 30 tunnels, said to be the greatest number of any city in the world, and 19 beaches, covering 23 miles). But this is not the whole explanation.

Imagine this. You're driving toward the city from the south, on winding back roads over wooded hills dense with jacarandas and palms. You pass little pink houses tucked into the hedges, purple bougainvilleas spilling over their garden walls.

You pass roadside stands with bananas tied all over them, and then the coastline appears, and the road turns to follow it. The road sweeps around the curves, giving views of the rocks and the breaking waves. White stretches of empty sand and foaming surf appear and disappear.

Then you are flying down the long avenue that fronts the beach at Barra, below high-rise apartments that look across the road to the sea. Two boys with surfboards wait at a bus stop. A woman in a tiny bikini walks a tiny dog.

The road disappears into one tunnel, then another, re-emerging at the beach of Sao Conrado, and you see it all before you, Leblon Beach, Ipanema - the wide boulevard under brilliant sunshine, crowded with bicycles and in-line skaters, lined with cafes, shops, hotels, and on the beach, under a mass of colored beach umbrellas, Rio people doing what they do best, hanging out in the sun.

Along the sidewalk, lovers sip drinks at tables by kiosks. Mothers push babies in strollers. Barefoot kids line up to buy big cups of fresh-squeezed juice. The pulse of samba floats down the street from somewhere, and a pair of girls on the sidewalk catch it, and dance, shaking their hips for a minute before they walk on.

In your rearview mirror you see the mountains you came through, called the Two Brothers, ripping up from the sea, tropical and green. Far ahead, around a finger of rocky land, lies the long, glittering strand of Copacabana, like a slender crescent moon embracing the sea. And to your right, as Ipanema pulses all around you, the southern ocean seems to stretch forever.

If you close your eyes, the sounds are as bright as the visions: laughter, car horns, bits of song from radios, musical Portuguese full of shush-shush sounds, children giggling, vendors calling out, the faint pounding of surf in the background.

But even with your eyes closed, you can see it all. It's magic, though like anything really magic, you can forget trying to understand it.

Rio is like nowhere in the world.

Sally Shivnan lives in Annapolis.



R. Michael Clemens, Crownsville

Bermuda has the most beautiful water I have ever seen. The island is cozy, safe and friendly. On the southwestern side, there are many beaches. Some are crowded, but others are hidden and harder to find. I can't wait to return to Long Bay (pictured), in Warwick Parish, where a sandy path leads down to the sun-drenched beach.

Omaha, Neb.

Barbara Pendleton, Fort Meade

While visiting Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo, we chanced upon a pair of frolicking tigers. The big cats were so close we could feel the spray as they dived in the water. Reader's Digest has called the Henry Doorly Zoo "the best zoo in America."

Arizona old-timer

My Best Shot

Sarah C. Wagner, Catonsville

The saguaro cactus towered over us as we hiked through Saguaro National Park in southern Arizona. Wildlife was everywhere, and this particular cactus appeared to be home to two species of woodpeckers.

Saguaros can live more than 200 years and reach heights of 50 feet. We waited for the sun to set in hope of at least minimal relief from the 117-degree temperature. Our patience paid off as the sky darkened, but not before leaving this powerful image.


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