Floresta da Tijuca

August 7, 2009

I spent the day walking around Rio’s Floresta da Tijuca with a friend of mine from class.  In the middle of this chaotic, buzzing city, it’s an 80,000 acre National Park that opened in 1961.  It’s one of the world’s largest urban forests, filled with rivers, and formed on one of the oldest rock massifs (no hyperbole here, promise).  It looks prehistoric, with gigantic trees and swinging vines, twisting roots, and plants with leaves as big as surf boards.  There were monkeys (we heard them but didn’t see them), and weird, disgusting rodents, about the size of cats with pointy snouts and raccoon tails.  We saw some gorgeous butterflies, white and black and pink and yellow, as we walked up the main road, straight uphill.  It was cloudy, but I think on a clear day we could have gotten some killer views of the city.  At certain turns there were old, beautiful fountains built into the trails–gurgling water over blue and white tiles down into baroque basins.  An odd and sort of erie juxtaposition with the wildness of the rain forest.  The whole park was mostly empty, and much cooler than the city below, almost a different climate than the baking beaches.

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After thoroughly wandering the forest (we were very careful to stay on the paved roads and beaten path) we left the floresta and walked for about 15 minutes to find a bus stop.  It was a cool area of Rio that I hadn’t yet seen–for a while there was just more forest, then gates that hid manicured hedges and fancy houses, with favelas in the distance.  We got to a place with a preschool and a college of some sort and found the bus stop.  We got on the bus that was headed toward Barra da Tijuca and rode through a favela, past some little boys playing with kites, through daily life of lanchonettes and hanging laundry to the main street leading into downtown Barra (which everyone describes as looking like Miami, but it’s a tough comparison).  The wealth differences in Barra are almost more apparent than anywhere else, so intermixed.  After lunch, the Barra Express bus brought us back to the beach, curving around on the cliffs so close the ocean–looking brilliant in the afternoon sun.

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