The first time I passed by the iron gates of Parque Estadual in Lapa was the first time I learned there was a Parque Estadual in Lapa. The friend I was with said the park had animals he didn’t think existed in the rest of the world. I laughed, but peered curiously through the gate anyway. I saw a couple of skinny cats and was not particularly impressed.
A few weeks later, I decided to cut across the park after mistakenly disembarking from a bus far earlier than intended. To say I saw animals I hadn’t seen before seems like an understatement. I felt like I’d walked into Narnia, right here in Rio. Narnia without the snow.
Fuzzy little animals with the posture and body of oversized squirrels but the legs of sheep and the waddle of furry pigs scampered everywhere I looked.
Regal ducks walked like an Egyptian along the banks of the pond, sporting red eye masks which, on closer inspection, kind of looked like their pink brains were popping out the front of their faces.
Inexplicable but charming rock formations stood guarded by offensively tall and subversively naked palm trees.
Romantic bridges over untroubled pond water seemed to spring out of the very ground. Thick tree trunks made up of orgies of countless intertwining smaller trunks bent over the water to admire their reflections, each a frozen Narcissus. I clambered onto a boulder for a viewing platform of all the park’s weirdness.
Not a place for sprawling out on the grass with a picnic spread, it’s more a spot for escaping Lapa’s, or even Rio’s, grime and energy for quality time with a good book, or for reflection.
And speaking of books, the park does make a great lunch or snack spot for visitors to the Biblioteca Parque Estadual, the beautifully airy library across the street.
The library has an eclectic mix of spaces for working and reading, complete with artsy chairs, excellent wifi, and of course an extensive (Portuguese-language) book collection.
On the day I visited there were about thirty jovial adults sporting white lab coats and bunny ears. Following my venture into Parque Narnia, I began to wonder whether I had indeed stepped through a wardrobe portal into some alternative universe. Although I remain clueless as to what said jovial group was up to, I suspect the bunny humans are not a regular feature of the space but rather a sign that the library is open to hosting fun-spirited shenanigans.
Together, Narnia – I mean, the park – and library make for a worthwhile half-day visit to this oft overlooked section of the city where normality is suspended.