Imagine you’re a 20-year-old university student, proud that your country is hosting one of the most visible sports events in the world. As the event approaches, however, the perception of your country darkens from nirvana to nightmare. Brazil is no longer the home of beaches, forests, and friendly dancers. It is the home of disease, corruption, and delay.
When new friends post on Facebook about an upcoming journey to Rio de Janeiro, they ask family members to pray for their safety.
Welcome to the world of Marina Scherer and Brazilian university students like her.
“It is not like that,” says Scherer, a journalism major at Mackenzie Presbyterian University in São Paulo. Scherer is disappointed by themes that dominate international and social media coverage of Brazil in the lead-up to the Olympic Games. Within 24 hours of landing in Rio, the story goes, visitors will be bitten by swarms of vicious mosquitos, contract zika, get robbed by an 12-year-old on a motorcycle, and then splashed by sewage water kicked up by a black Ferrari driven by Mr. Monopoly Money. Later that night, a terrorist will blow up their hotel.
“Rio is full of beautiful places like beaches, buildings and mountains, and it is all in the same city and the same place,” says Scherer. “That is what I love about Rio. The international media just focuses on the bad and is sensationalizing what we really have here in Rio.” For the sake of balance, she wonders if it would it hurt to give the country a little positive air time.
If there is a reliable rock in Rio, however, a platform from which to view the city’s beaches, cityscape, and mountains, Scherer believes it is Sugarloaf Mountain. She perceives it as a bird’s eye view of the real Rio, enabling visitors to recognize make their own, unfiltered impressions.
Sugarloaf, or Pão de Açúcar in Portuguese, is 1,299 feet tall and located at the mouth of Guanabara Bay. Sugarloaf and Christ the Redeemer are usually the first two places visited by newcomers to the city. Augusto Ferreira Ramos, a Brazilian engineer, created a plan to transform the natural landmark into a tourist attraction in the early 1900s. In that decade, undreds of laborers carried more than four tons of equipment to the top of Sugarloaf to begin the construction of a cable car system. It was opened to the public in 1912.
“When you’re above Rio on Sugarloaf you see that it is not what the media is showing,” Scherer says. “Sugarloaf allows people to see all the beauties the city has to offer and allows people to forget about the bad of our country. They look and see there is more than just crime and mosquitos.” Scherer hopes that the Rio 2016 Olympic Games will continue to draw visitors to her country, and she hopes they get the chance to make it to Sugarloaf. The mountain represents her people’s happiness, willingness to help others, and national pride. It’s breathtaking, Marina says: “Oh my gosh, it is beautiful.”
Photo: Sugarloaf Mountain is the lump in center right, across Botafogo Bay.