The Rio Big Swim (Travessia dos Fortes)

Day 1. And so we assemble, Fernando’s band of merry men in LHR Terminal 1’s “Geronimo Bar” gearing up for our epic trip; flying down to Rio. We are to take part in Rio’s very own annual swim race: Travessia dos Fortos (crossing between the two fortresses) a distance of 3.5km across the bay of one of the world’s most famous stretches of sand; Copacabana Beach.

Arriving in Rio around 04:30 local time, you could already feel the morning heat rising. Fer keeps us awake with packets of ‘cheesy balls’ as we gawk out across the still waters towards the Niteroi road bridge as our minibus hurtles along the airport freeway towards the beaches.

Having checked into our hotel it was only natural to want to stroll down to Copacabana beach – some of us wearing our SLSC fleecy “pom pom” hats. Despite not wearing my speedos, I can’t resist a quick dip in me undies.

We later retire to Fer’s mother’s retreat on the side of a nearby mountain – complete with seaview/breezes one could only dream of. Fed and watered, us four gringos are taxied back to our hotel and we go for a late afternoon dip, then explore locally before eventually crashing – talk about having it all laid on for us!

Day 2. Chris and I wake at the crack of dawn and find ourselves gazing out at Copacabana beach and take in the mesmerizing scene. Chris decided to go for a run along the seafront; an inspired idea – I join him. The beach is almost deserted at this early hour.

After breakfast we join Tino for our final film shoot and swim race registration. We walk the entire Copacabana promenade to get there as the day really heats up. For these activities, we don our SLSC fleecy “pom pom” hats and in 29C heat, naturally attract a lot of attention.

Locals hail cabs to get around Rio and this is what the ‘Big Man’ has in store for us as we head over to the rather swanky Ipanema/Leblon area for ‘suchi’ – one of Fer’s favorite local cuisines. A bit of a swell has whipped up and the sea is a bit challenging for our afternoon dip. Later that evening, we head off for dinner and it absolutely pours down.

Day 3. The sea is a little rougher and this causes Chris some consternation. After a late practice dip we go for a stroll along the beach towards the race finish point and the headland with the other fortress atop. And so it is during the blistering heat of noon, that we decide to walk up to visit this battlement. The stunning views across Copacabana are well worth it. From up here, we have our first sighting of the statue of Christ The Redeemer. It’s all too much, and we head back down to seek the sanctuary of a nearby ‘juice bar’. Later Fer takes us off for a cultural evening to the Rio Scenarium. Chris will always regret his decision to stay behind at the hotel, to read his book.

Day 4. We’re quite surprised by Fer’s early knock on the door but we’ve got more swim practice to do. Upon leaving the hotel wearing our fleecy hats, the Big Man is instantly recognized; “hey, there’s the man that swims 100 degrees below!” is exclaimed in Portuguese. Fer hoots with laughter at this.

Down on the beach close to the start line, there’s a hive of activity; enclosure and camera gantries being set up. The five of us attract even more attention as we walk about, towels tucked under our arms. The previous evening we had gone out live on the national TV news to about 100 million households in the build-up to the annual race. This is something I’ve not experienced before.

For lunch, we head over to ‘The Bay’ for sumptuous mixed cattle but not before a side trip up the Corcovoda Mountain to meet Christ himself. The view of Rio from up there is amazing until that is, a big cloud wafts through – and despite being over 2,300 ft up, it’s still extremely muggy! As Fer puts it, this particular all-embracing Christ is one of the few that doesn’t look mournful as he gazes down upon all he surveys. Later we delight in the walk back along the adjoining Ipanema Beach and marvel at the sunset over the ‘two brothers’ peaks.

Day 5. Race Day! Chris is very, very nervous and slightly uncomfortable with it too. I tell him, “Ahh, it’s just a swim in the park mate” but such reassuring words don’t really help much.

Everyone gathers down on the beach for a 10:00AM race start. An overhead roaming drone camera films the spectacle, while a sea of assembled blue hats waits patiently as the elite men and women splash off first. The water is ever so slightly choppy as the faster swimmers flap away along the yellow buoy-line. When our group enters the water it’s not unlike frantic turtle hatchlings heading back out through the surf. I initially struggle to find some space without being clambered over, or having my goggles carelessly dislodged by a foot or two. Before long, the adrenalin settles down as I try to relax into a nice smooth rhythm.

Eventually I do settle down but this is not before I’ve made a couple of bad decisions to swim the other side of the buoy-line in a bid to get some space, resulting in being led away by the current before marshals direct me back on to the course. Ian swims a blinder coming in first amongst us and overall, all did SLSC proud by posting some reasonable times – with Fer even overtaking one of the silver-hatted elite swimmers!

To celebrate, we head over to Fer’s house in St. Conrado where a banquet of lovely food, friends and family await. I even get to learn how to make a caipirinha!

The week has gone very quickly and although Chris, Ian and Kev head back the following day, I had decide that five days in Rio is simply not long enough and like Fernando, who has family engagements to catch up with, I stay on for another week.

Many thanks and appreciation goes to Fernando for organising this ‘trip of a lifetime’ and for tirelessly taking the trouble to show us around his home town. All I know is that Fer’s response would be to say we need to get a bigger party for next year’s trip! So, start saving those pennies!

by Richard Tricker

Ian Clark 1:06:13.2
Richard Tricker 1:11:28.2
Chris Stanton 1:13:50.3
Kevin Cunningham 1:23:38.5
Fernando Farah 1:27:41.4