By Roy Gachuhi,
The first time I attempted to visit the statue of Christ the Redeemer ended in fiasco. I had put in an 18-hour working day, writing from 2am to 8pm, with just a brief break. That put me well ahead of schedule. So I declared the following day a personal holiday. I started it with a 6am swim in Botafogo beach.
Feeling sufficiently athletic, I planted my arms on my hips, footballer style, and took in the view of Corcovado Mountain with Christ’s statue atop it.
Even from a distance, it has a mystical power over the city below. The power is tender, not hard. You also cannot miss it. It is Rio de Janeiro’s North Star; I have used it many times to find my way to Botafogo. At night, it shines bright. Most of all, it is inviting; I am not sure how you can come here and not want to go there.
The problem is that it looks nearer than it actually is. The combination of that illusion, my feeling of Olympian fitness and the psychological satisfaction of putting all deadlines behind me resulted in a mistake. I decided to walk there. I walked for a very long time and sweat flowed freely in the cavity of my back. I finally got to where I could see the statue nearest to the road.
That is when it dawned on me that I was attempting to walk to the clouds. I turned back for the seemingly endless journey home. I avoided taking a bus, because I did not want to risk having anybody talk to me in Portuguese. I couldn’t handle that work. Arriving at home with a perched mouth and weak knees, I briefly described what I had done to my housemates. I was too tired to talk much.
“You tried,” somebody complimented me warmly. For whatever reason, I interpreted that to mean: “What were you thinking?” But to look at it positively, which is important, I believe I burned two kilos of weight. I was wise the second time. I took a train and then a shuttle bus. Through a winding forest road, the shuttle took me right to the top of Corcovado Mountain. And there it was. But nothing had prepared me for what I saw and felt. All of Rio de Janeiro was below me. I had a 360-degree view of the city with all its topographical splendour.
“The Olympic Games have come to the most scenic city in their history,” an Australian swimming coach had told me in a bus heading to Joao Havelange Stadium. He is a veteran of six Games. At Christ the Redeemer, I agreed.
But it is the statue itself that left me with the most lasting impression. It is a monument to engineering genius. Is there such a thing as divine inspiration? Yes. For how could this be conceived, drawn, costed and built?
How is it that you can drive or ride a tram up to such a high and precarious perch? How did they transport such a colossus to so small and dangerous a place? How did people work where there is no room for error? It is listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the New World. On that, the case is closed.
Roy Gachuhi is in Rio de Janeiro as a writer-in-residence with Agencia Publica, an independent Brazilian investigative journalism news agency.