Let me offer you my latest peregrinations, which consisted of a 15,000-mile sweep through the Americas, north and south, that produced a series of giant carbon footprints, while giving me hardly any opportunity to stretch my legs. I blame the kids: two small boys are a sufficient drogue to brake any possibility of sustained walking, unless it’s on a treadmill facing a marathon screening of all the Harry Potter movies.
Walk 1. Sao Paulo Airport. Distance: 260m. Time: 2.5 hours.
Don’t be fooled by the comparatively short distances and level terrain into thinking that this will be an easy hike. Consisting of four separate stages — Domestic Transfers Check-in Desk, TAM ticketing desk, TAM Check-in, and Security — the walk, or “queue” as it is colloquially known, can become especially arduous if you undertake it, as we did, in the immediate aftermath of a strike by Brazilian air-traffic controllers. We flew in at 6.30am in a daze, but after “walking” for three hours, we knew where we were. Purgatory. Still, we didn’t have it as bad as those who flew in to Sao Paulo’s domestic airport a fortnight later — their destination was altogether final.
Walk 2. From the head of the funicular to the base of the statue of Christ the Redeemer. Distance: 200m.
Time: 1 hour (including refreshment stop).
Everyone, just everyone, has to visit this huge statue when they come to Rio. It’s just so huge, and the views from the top of the mountain are superb. At least, they are on clear days. On the one we attempted our trek, it was so cloudy we could see neither up nor down. The youngest of our party did exclaim “Oh my God!” when he saw the vast Redeemer looming out of the mist, but while this may have been apt, he is also — being five — utterly credulous.
Walk 3. Copacabana to Ipanema. Distance: 1.5km.
Time: 2 hours.
Put all thoughts of Astrud Gilberto and the eponymous girl out of your mind. Beachfront Rio may no longer have been quite as minatory as when I was last here, in the early 1990s (see Psychogeography passim), but being winter it was still a misty, chilly, slightly scuzzy prospect, as the author’s wife never ceased to remind him.
The boys liked to walk up the beach — which, to be fair, is pristine — then back down the Avenida Atlantica, time after time after time. Eventually, I persuaded them to divert up the Rua Francesco Otaviano to Ipanema, past a scary Catholic iconostasis (life-size plaster figures of leprous-looking saints). It was dark by the time we turned into the Avenida Francesco Behring, and there was absolutely no one on the beach at all. The breakers rolled in from the Atlantic, and the lights of the hilly suburbs to the south mounted up as if Christ the Redeemer were developing the empyrean itself.
Towards the end of the point was the Parcque Garota. The author’s wife felt that its dark shrubbery, and sinister-sounding appellation disqualified it as a location for family rambling, but I pointed out that “garota” is in fact “girl” in Portuguese, and the park was named after the eponymous one. “In that case,” Mrs Self snapped, “why is it full of single men lurking in the bushes?”
Walk 4. Paraty, Brazil. Round trip from the Marquesa Hotel. Distance: 2kms. Time: 1.5 hours.
If you visit the charming seaside resort of Paraty — 3.5 hours drive north of Rio — be sure to tour its famously uneven, large-cobbled streets on foot. The grid-pattern of boxy, whitewashed houses will be familiar to anyone who has ever seen a spaghetti western.
Abandoning the boys at the hotel, I acquired sturdy walking companions, to whit: the entire staff of the British Council office in Rio de Janeiro, together with a journalist from Il Globo, his photographer, and the Jeep they’d all hired.
I asked them why they were on my case; they explained that they’d paid my plane fare to the literary festival that was being held in Paraty, and they wanted their face time. This was all news to me. I don’t like having anything to do with the Council, which is an adjunct of the Foreign Office, charged with converting the heathen to reruns of The Vicar of Dibley. They wanted to go for a drive — I insisted on walking. I prevailed, and we set out for the kilometre or so to the jetty where the pleasure boats are hired, the whole media cavalcade stringing along behind.
The journalist asked me questions, his snapper snapped away. The Head of the British Council and I chatted amiably enough. (It’s impossible to do anything else with them, as Holly Martins discovered in The Third Man, when he encountered the BC rep, Crabbin, memorably played by the late Wilfrid Hyde-White.) We made it to the jetty, and then, after further excruciating politeness, I managed to shake them off. Bliss.