Time to explore Rio for Lancaster doctor volunteering at Olympics

A quiet playground on Morro da Conciecca.
A quiet playground on Morro da Conciecca.
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Former Royal Lancaster Infirmary consultant anaesthetist Dr John Davies is volunteering in the medical team at the Rio Olympics. Here’s part three of his diary...

“I have a few days off now, before some long, late shifts, 18:00 to 24:00, and I’ve been doing a bit of exploring around Rio.

The view from the cable car summit station in Rio.

The view from the cable car summit station in Rio.

The famous Sugarloaf Mountain of Rio is just one of several granite domes that rise above the flat coastal plain, and there are several within the city itself, where they are called “Morros”.

Two were where I explored, the Morro da Conceicca and the Morro da Providencia.

The first is by far the smaller, and only a couple of hundred yards from the sea.

At its foot was the old slave Market, and a fort crowned its peak, guarding that and the Old Port.

At the beginning of the last century, the remains of both were demolished, and the steep sides of the Morro rebuilt into a near vertical rocky garden, the Hanging Garden of Valongo.

A steep pathway takes you alongside and then above the Garden, to the summit of the Morro, quiet cobbled streets, and a breeze from the sea.

The military still own and use the barracks built on top, but a tiny playground overlooking the Old Port, the quaint houses and the quiet that the limited access gives in a noisy city, will I am sure make this the Hampstead of Rio when prosperity returns to Brazil.

It’s a “ barrio” at present, next step up from a favela, but ripe for gentrification.

The other Morro is a different story. Much larger and higher, one side is a sheer drop of many hundreds of metres, that even favela dwellers can’t build, but they have taken over the rest.

Favelas as you may know are a byword for unregulated, even lawless urban sprawl.

My map of Rio shows only one street on the Morro, to the church on the top, but the whole non-vertical surface is covered by typical favela housing, simple concrete beams outlining a rectangle, filled in by red bricks with a corrugated iron roof over an open-sided top storey.

The paths between are too narrow for a four-wheeled vehicle.

But this randomly constructed suburb has a high-tech transportation to get to it.

From either side, near the docks at the Cidade do Samba, where the samba schools construct their fantastical floats, and at the Avenida Presidente Vargas, Rio Central’s main, 12 lane drag, rises a telegraphique, a cable car that lifts half a dozen at a time to the top of the Morro, and down again, without ever leaving the safety of the police-guarded station.

The view from the top makes any perceived risk worthwhile, and remarkably it’s a free ride too!”