My heart was racing, every pulse thumping through my entire body. Muscles in my arms, shoulders and legs all sore from the tension. Fingers stiff, white-knuckled from my death grip on the steering wheel. Another turn ahead, I crank the wheel to make the sharp turn, tires screeching, accelerating through the turn to keep ahead of the cars battling me for position. A near collision; brake, down shift, avoid being hit. Then shift again, accelerate, continue soaring down the stretch of asphalt. Head is throbbing, headache increasing with each kilometer of ground I cover. Almost there, the finish is in sight; one last swerve to avoid another car, then hard right and finally… stopped. Whew! I did it. I survived. No, not a Formula-One or Indy race, but an adrenaline fueled drive through the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
For someone who grew up driving in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains, this type of traffic is unheard of. Yes I’ve driven in large metropolitan cities like L.A. and Atlanta and have experienced grid-lock and traffic jams. However, this is Brazil. The narrow windy cobblestone roads wreak havoc on both car and driver. It’s not stalled traffic; it’s hectic, chaotic movement. Nerve-racking aggressive driving that feels more like a fight for survival than a mere commute. The multitude of three-lane roundabouts becomes five or six mingled lanes based on the time of day and numbers of cars that wedge themselves onto the road. Buses have the right-of-way because they’re bigger and will run you off the road if you don’t yield. Stop signs lining the streets are irrelevant. Red traffic lights are observed and obeyed, well at least until dark, then slow down long enough to flash your brights, honk and accelerate as to not get robbed when stopping, all while hoping you don’t get t-boned from a crossing vehicle. The people of Rio de Janeiro, the Cariocas, have become accustomed to this feverish traffic and slender, congested streets that snake through concrete edifices.
So why subject yourself to this? When driving it’s difficult to see anything but the cars, taxis and buses, and the looming shadows cast by the adjacent buildings. These objects distract your attention and block your view from seeing the beauty of this city and surrounding landscapes. It’s the proverbial problem of not seeing the forest through the trees.
Turning onto Avenida Atlântica the buildings dissipate in the background and spectacular views of the iconic Copacabana Beach are seen. Continuing down this large avenue and eventually turning onto Avenida Vieira Souto the beaches of Ipanema and Leblon come into view. Miles and miles of white sand, palm trees and deep blue waters stretch as far as the eye can see.
As if the majestic beauty of the beaches wasn’t enough the lush green mountainside of Sugarloaf, Pão de Açucar, lines the north-east skyline. While north of the Copacabana boardwalk and neighboring beaches, Corcovado rises over 2,300 feet above sea level. The landmark peaks sits amidst the Tijuca forest, elevating the 125 foot Cristo Redentor, Christ the Redeemer, statue which overlooks Brazil most renowned city.
The life of Rio’s 6.3 Million inhabitants is challenging. The people work hard while facing innumerable economic and political challenges in South America’s largest country.
There is a lesson to be learned from these Cariocas. They understand it’s not about daily grind, the congestion, and the turmoil life throws at you. It’s about the magnificence, the beauty and joy that can be found when you look up and look past what’s right in front of you.