As the cab wove up to a tunnel carved out of a verdant mountain, I struggled to remember how to ask "How long will it take to get there?" in terrible Portuñol. It was already past noon. I had no watch, the clock on the dash gave the wrong time, and I was supposed to be halfway across the city, at Cosme Velho, in time to catch the 12:40 train.
My cabbie, driving the first empty cab out of a dozen that had flashed by me, was good-natured and patient. Once he figured out what I was trying to ask, he smiled and shrugged. "Fifteen minutes, depending on traffic," he said in Portuguese.
I get the feeling anywhere in Rio is fifteen minutes away, if you ask a cabbie, but I had faith in him.
As we exited the tunnel, a snarl of traffic blocked the entry to the train station. I gave my driver a healthy tip along with the fare, hopped out of the cab, and ran down the street toward the line where I was supposed to meet Deb. A station clock told me it was 12:36. Chill Brazilians (are there any other kind?) gave me the side-eye as I raced around, frantically looking for my friend.
This was actually the second time I'd attempted Corcovado. The first had been an overcast day earlier that week. The girls at the ticket office were actually dissuading people from paying to go up. "You can't see the city, and you can't see the statue," they told the Argentine-American tourists in front of me. I decided to kill a little time by walking up the street and paying a visit to a lesser-known landmark, the Largo do Boticário. I'd seen the overgrown mansions on Pinterest and it made a nice, quick side trip while I waited to see if the sun would return.
The sun, however, refused to show its face. I admitted defeat and caught a bus back to the city center. (And ended up becoming an unofficial tour guide for another tourist who'd just arrived, but that's another story.) By 5:00 PM, I was ruing my decision, as my theoretical ticket would have put me on the mountain in time for a beautiful sunset. You just never know.
But back to the present - once I figured out I should check for Deb in, you know, the actual line for the train, I found her. In true Brazilian fashion, the train was delayed by about twenty minutes, so all my rushing about was unnecessary and we had time to catch our breath. (Deb had barely made it as well, as one of the tunnels had been closed!)
The Pope blessed this train with his presence, once.
We watched a couple of trains come and go before it was our turn. As we got closer to the front of the line, the crowd became pushier, people attempting to skip to the front. This New Yorker was not having that. We successfully blocked line jumpers, but when our train finally arrived, it was a mad dash anyway. What did these people think this was, the 4 train at 7:00 AM? Not on my vacation. Knowing Deb (who'd managed to get on quickly) would save me a seat, I stayed out of the crush.
While we didn't get window seats, the train ride up was fun, with a few amazing views as we climbed up through the forest. I've since read trip reports from three or four other people who did Corcovado during the World Cup, and all of them hiked or took a van. Despite the wait time and the madness of getting on, I'm so happy we did - Deb had been to Corcovado but had never taken the train before, and I thought it was a nice trip up. We relaxed and talked about soccer and a couple of related projects I was gathering inspiration for.
Once we arrived at the top, things were perfect. The weather was beautiful, with the odd equator sun shining down at an angle, even at 1:00 PM. Deb and I took our time taking the requisite touristy pictures. As incredibly crowded as the mountain was, the views of the city and the famous 'Christ the Redeemer' statue were stunning.
All together, one hour spent on top of Corcovado turned into a three hour trip, but given that it was the afternoon of the World Cup final, things could have been worse. With a little Brazilian laissez-faire, everything had worked out. Arriving back at Cosme Velho, we managed to snag a cab (complete with the cutest driver I've ever encountered, in a baby-faced Oscar kind of way) and headed toward Leme to catch the World Cup final.
Now was kick-off time at 3:00 PM or 4:00? Eh. This is Brazil.