Have you ever thought about how many cities in the world you could call a complete city? What I mean by that is a city that provides access to beaches, nightlife, culture, nature, great cuisine and adventure.
Rio de Janeiro is one of the few cities on the planet that checks all those boxes.
During my sixth visit to Rio, I headed west to Sao Conrado to hang glide. I met my instructor, Klaus, at Sao Conrado beach to get my co-pilot license, and then we jumped in his SUV and rode to Pedra Bonita, the launch point 1,700 feet high. The view from Pedra Bonita is marvelous on a clear day, and the mild wind gave us perfect flying conditions. Up until this point, I was very confident about flying, but when Klaus started to give the safety instructions, my heart rate increased a little. Klaus said, “No matter what you do, don’t stop running.” And as easy as that sounds, I was praying that I wouldn’t freeze up and stop running.
After the instructions, Klaus and I strapped into the glider, went over safety checks with the safety guide, and stepped up on the ramp … and everything around me turned to white noise. I snapped out of it as I heard Klaus count down from 3 to 2 to 1. We ran, and the glider took us away into one of the most liberating experiences I have ever been part of. I felt freedom and also a kinship to nature while flying. I could see as far as Ipanema Beach, Rocinha, and below me were immaculate mansions. The shimmering sun enhanced the blues in the ocean, and we soared with other birds catching wind.
Klaus gave me a chance to steer the glider, and for a few seconds, it was fun, but I immediately relinquished captain duties. The 15-minute flight time was worth every penny and second. We landed safely on the beach of Sao Conrado where we started, and I must say this was great spot to hang glide.
Happy that my feet were back on solid ground, I maneuvered to Laranjeiras for samba lessons. Samba is the music and dance style that originated in Brazil with West African roots. I’ve always admired the music and dance, so I’m taking lessons with Alessandra Cabal. I consider myself a ghetto ballerina and able to master any dance style, but I have to admit it took me a little bit longer than expected to get down the 1,2,3 count. Alessandra kept working with me, and after while, I was able to do my best samba impression.
CHECK OUT: Nate get wild in South Africa
Dancing works up an appetite, and Alessandra invited me to her friend Luiza’s home in Copacabana to try feijoada, a stew of beans with beef and pork. The dish was delicious, but the unique thing about the experience was how Luiza welcomed me into her home. In my mind, I was a complete stranger, but Alessandra’s invite transformed me into a friend.
Luiza had another treat; she flexed her caipirinhas-making skills, Brazil’s national cocktail. Her mix of Cachaça, sugar cane rum, sugar and lime was refreshing. It was a great way to wind down the day after hang gliding and dancing to samba.