Brazil is bigger than Europe, wilder than Africa, and weirder than Baffin Land.
So wrote UK author Lawrence Durrell in a letter to Henry Miller (1948). Durrell’s first point was and remains a simple fact: Brazil is bigger than Europe. His second point may be less true today than it was in 1948, especially given the human pressures bearing down on the Brazilian rainforest and other precious natural environments throughout South America. As for the third point, weirdness is surely in the eye of the beholder but if you’ve experienced Carnaval, you might agree with Durrell in that things can certainly get weird. (And that comparison to Baffin Land? We think it takes a writer’s unrestricted license to reach from Brazil’s steamy climes to Canada’s frozen north. Let it serve as creative guidance to all of us travel writers.)
Weird or not, Brazil is the focus destination for this, the June 2006 issue of the TravelPod Newsletter. As usual, we have combed your blogs to come up with some great reading, and some great photos. Basics and Trivia are back as well.
This month’s Your Words feature comes to you from charter TravelPod Members Gerry and Sharon Channer, known to many of you as thymeoff. If you follow Lucky’s News, you know that the Channers are national media darlings, having had the story of their traveling life covered in newspapers across Canada. Their words prove that you can pack it in and pack the van no matter how many birthdays you’ve enjoyed.
And there is one more item to mention. We’re looking for the stars among you travel scribes. We want to put you on a pedestal for all to admire. If you’re interested in vying for the right to brag for a year, now is your chance.
BEING THERE: BRAZIL
Quick, name three things quintessentially Brazilian!
Rio de Janeiro’s renowned Carnaval and equally famous Christo Redentor (the 98 foot statue of Christ the Redeemer) will be two of them, no doubt. So will the Brazilian Rainforest. These are perennial attractions for travelers to Brazil, the business class and hostellers alike. But a country of more than 8.5 million square kilometers (almost 3.3 million square miles) of primarily tropical climate that rises from the white sand beaches of almost 7,500 kilometers (4,660 miles) of Atlantic coastline to the apex of Pico da Neblina at 3,014 meters (almost 10,000 feet) above sea level, and two of the largest metropolitan centers in the world (Sao Paulo and the aforementioned Rio de Janeiro), offers virtually everything, and something for everyone.
If you haven’t been, let your TravelPod companions describe their joys and distractions. If you already have your Brazil pin in your TravelPod map, return with them through this month’s selected travelogues.
And this.... While busy compiling and composing the material for this newsletter, we paused a moment to wonder if Vinicius de Moraes and Antonio Carlos Jobim might not have hit on the perfect image for their homeland when they wrote The Girl From Ipanema: “…like a samba that swings so cool and sways so gentle.”
Como se diz isso em português? Ah, yes: Que horas sai o avião??
• Population – 188 Million +
• Language – Portuguese (Official), Spanish, English and French
• Currency – Brazilian Real (BRL) = about $0.45 USD (01/06/06)
• Capital – Brasilia
• Largest City – Sao Paulo
• It’s actually the reverse: brazilwood was not named after the country; the country was named after the pau-brasil tree. Pau-brasil wood was a source of red and purple dyes and harvested for export by early Portuguese settlers of what we now call Brazil. Today, the pau-brasil tree is a threatened species.
• Brazil has had three capitals in its history. Salvador, officially founded in 1549, was the first and remained the seat of colonial government for more than 200 years. In 1763, Rio de Janeiro was made capital and enjoyed that distinction for the next 200-or-so years. In 1960, by presidential order, the capital was moved to Brasilia, an entirely planned city that is said to have been intentionally designed in the shape of a butterfly.
• Ipanema is a district of the city of Rio de Janeiro. A young girl living on Ipanema’s Montenegro street inspired Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Maraes to compose the best known bossa nova song ever written: “The Girl Form Ipanema.” That song and a dollop of connect-the-dots genius gave Terry Gilliam the name for his now-classic 1985 film “Brazil”. (Why Gilliam chose that particular song to close and nominate his film is anyone’s guess.)
• In February of 2006, The Rolling Stones played a free concert for more than a million fans on Rio’s Copacabana Beach. It was one of the largest concerts ever staged but not the largest. That distinction goes to Rod Stewart for entertaining more than 3 million fans on New Year’s Eve 1994. The site of that Guinness record-holding concert? Copacabana Beach.
Brazil By TravelPodders
There are more than 400 TravelPod travelogues dedicated to Brazil and your fellow TravelPodders have shared more than 8,500 photos of their Brazilian adventures. We hope the following selections will give you the nudge you’re waiting for, for Brazil is waiting for you.
TravelPod Posts From Brazil
Right on Rio by irax
Recife Means Reef by rese_ma
3 Things About Brazilian Bikinis by sarawalsh
Rainy and Raunchy by caznjasonescape
Amazon Rainforest by martinisinrio
More Brazil Travelogues
Brazil Photos From TravelPod
Clockwise from left
Carnaval by shanesworld.
Making Souvenirs by rese_ma.
Iguassu by antanna.
More Brazil Photos
TravelPod-Recommended Links For Brazil
Official Brazilian Tourism Site
Current political and economic issues in Brazil from The Economist
Brazil at Wikipedia
CIA Brazil FactBook
Drop in to the TravelPod South America Forum and share your favourite Brazil link.
• How many bikinis can you fit in your carry-on (and really, how many bikinis will you need?) Start planning your sunset stroll along Copacabana Beach. Check for flights to Brazil, right now.
• Maybe there’s someone else who would look good in a bikini, and if not a bikini, Brazilian fashion sense does tend toward the less-is-more credo so just about anything goes. Send BEING THERE: BRAZIL to the Beau or Belle Brummel you’d like to have strolling the beach right along beside you.
Gerry and Sharon Channer were featured in a story in the Ottawa (ON, CA) Citizen recently, a story that was subsequently published by the Edmonton (AB, CA) Journal, The Calgary (AB, CA) Herald, The Vancouver (BC, CA) Sun, The Sudbury (ON, CA), The Brantford (ON, CA) Expositor, and… well, now we’ve lost track but well-deserved attention, we say. The Channers (aka thymeoff) have been blazing personal trails for an instructively long time – role models and inspirations both. Enjoy their words.
Sharon and Gerry Channer – Ottawa (ON, CA)
What were your life goals and aspirations before you started traveling?
We always wanted to see the world and work in other cultures. Immediately following graduation from university, we both went to work for a couple of years as volunteers in Tanzania, Sharon as a teacher with CUSO from Canada and Gerry as an agronomist with VSO from UK. Sharon went on to hitch-hike around the world for a couple of years (including getting free lifts on an oil tanker and a small plane), with working stints in Israel and Japan. Meanwhile, Gerry headed up to Kenya and Ethiopia to work in seed production for three years, and managed to survive the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie and the inauguration of the Mengistu Haile Mariam regime. Having tasted the excitement of travel, the challenges and rewards of experiencing cultures other than our own, and the opportunity to make even a miniscule contribution to development, we knew that we would always have a passion to see more of our amazing world, so we headed back to grad school to get better qualifications in food, agriculture and participatory development. Over the past thirty five years we've spent almost half of our time living and working in developing countries - always in rural areas working with farm families and communities. Besides our time in Eastern Africa we've spent three years in Puno, Peru (where our son, Mike, was born) and four years in Sri Lanka, as well as a series of shorter consulting assignments in Ghana and Bangladesh. Everywhere we've worked we've taken every possible opportunity to travel around the country and the region by whatever means possible. We've returned to Canada twice to "settle down" and established two farm-based enterprises in the Ottawa Valley - a PYO vegetable farm and a herb business. Both were very successful, but we always got itchy feet and eventually succumbed to another opportunity to live in some distant corner of the globe.
What was your motivation for hitting the road?
Although we thoroughly enjoyed all of our work experiences (so much so, in fact, that we joke that we've never had real jobs in our lives) we yearned for the day when we could sell everything and retire to travel with no strings attached.
How did you feel when you stepped off the first plane?
That goes way, way back to 1969 when we first arrived in Tanzania, and nothing will ever replace those initial feelings of awe at being immersed in a African culture - the tropical sights, smells and sounds, and of course the amazing people. Tanzania for ever occupies a very special place in our hearts! As for our current trip which we are writing about on Travelpod, there was no need to fly anywhere to start our journey - we simply jumped into our 1987 WV Camper Van and headed out of the driveway. Although we left in the middle of a major snowstorm, we felt totally liberated and couldn't have been happier. The house, farm and business had sold, and we had no financial obligations - gone were the days of paying taxes, payroll, house insurance, heating, telephone, and all the rest of normal monthly costs. Gone also were the responsibilities, challenges and frustrations of running a small business in a hectic world. Suddenly, it seemed as if a great weight had been lifted from our shoulders. We were ecstatic!
What is your favourite travel memory?
It's extremely difficult to label just ONE travel memory as our favourite. Staying a month in a friend's rustic hacienda overlooking Lago Atitlán in the Mayan highlands of Guatemala with a panorama of three majestic volcanoes standing guard beyond would surely be considered a highlight, but so would our day on a catamaran, winding our way amidst giant icebergs in Argentina, that were sparkling like magic in the sun. How about that amazing week following in Darwin's footsteps in the Galapagos Islands, or two weeks spent cruising the Chilean fjords and crossing the Drake Passage to Antarctica, or the four-day trip up into the Salar de Uyuni in southern Bolivia? However, camping for a week in Sergio Gregorio’s spotless and superbly organized electronic workshop in Paysandu, Uruguay has to be one of the most memorable highlights of the trip so far. Experiencing a major problem with the electronic fuel injection system of our van, we were fortunate to just make it up the ramp into Sergio's workshop. Although there wasn't a peep out of the van for the next five days, Sergio and his family made us feel so welcome and comfortable, letting us live and sleep in the van and offering us the freedom of all the facilities of their house and garden. His wife Pilar, children Fabriccio and Antonio and neighbouring friend Diego, came several times a day to bring us food, practice their English, play games with us, and generally to keep us in good spirits in spite of the fact that there wasn't much progress on the diagnosis of the van problem. Yes, the van was repaired, and yes, we are still in close touch with the family and our penpal Diego.
How about your worst travel experience?
The worst thing that any parent will ever have to experience in a lifetime is the loss of a child. We were in an internet cafe in Cuzco, Peru when we received an e-mail from Foreign Affairs in Ottawa with the shattering news of our son's death in a plane crash in Zambia. Mike, a 24-year-old pilot, was following his dream, and had been travelling and flying in Southern Africa for the past nine months. Compared to this tragedy, nothing else on our travels could ever be considered a terrible experience, although we can relate a few instances of "desperate" moments:
a) when a local pickup truck came barrelling around a blind curve at great speed and pushed us over the edge of a deep drop off on the Carretera Austral in the deep south of Chile. Immediate thoughts of "game over" entered our minds.
b) when a traffic cop in Puno, Peru commandeered a local car to chase us for three blocks in order to slap us with a $200 fine for supposedly making an illegal turn. After thirty minutes of arguing our innocence, supported all the time by a number of local shopkeepers, the tourist police were summoned and finally the traffic cop ignominiously retreated. This is only one example where we were successful in avoiding the numerous attempts by uniformed officials in Peru and Bolivia to solicit bribes.
c) whenever we crossed from one Central American country to another. The abundant numbers of touts on hand truly frustrated us, but it was the prolonged, completely disorganized system itself that genuinely tried our patience. But hey, if that's the worst that we're expected to experience, then we consider ourselves home free!
Who is your most memorable character out there?
As with our favourite travel memory, it is virtually impossible to segregate one character to be labelled as "most memorable". There are definitely many unforgettable characters, and high on this list are Pedro and Gabriel - our angels. In the immediate aftermath of the accident described above, we sincerely wondered whether we would ever get back on the road again. Pedro and Gabriel were part of a bridge-building crew, working just a few km further down the road, and were passing on their way home for the day. They assessed the damage and reassured us that their back hoe could easily pull the van back onto the road. They drove us to a nearby fisherman’s cabin for the night, and next morning Gabriel manoeuvred his back hoe with finesse, as he dug a hole beside the van and then gently nudged a large rock into it - the rock that had smashed into our propane tank. Using his bucket as if it were fingers of a hand, he lifted the van with a series of ropes, as he and Pedro carefully pulled it back up onto the road. Our heroes!
But the story doesn't finish there. Driving 400 km back to Coyhaique, we were compelled to spend three full weeks while awaiting repairs to the van. One evening we were in the local video store, selecting one of their few DVD movies to watch on our computer. We started chatting to owners Luís and Teresa, talking excitedly about our trip Within minutes, Luís informed us that his birthday was the next day and invited us to join the family for a celebration dinner. So when was the last time you were invited to dinner by your local video store owner? Later in the week we spent a second evening with the family and some neighbours showing them photos of our trip, and then joined them for an all day Sunday outing to nearby Puerto Aisén and Puerto Chacabuco. Memorable characters? You bet!!
How did you feel when you stepped off the last plane?
The last plane we stepped off was the one bringing us back to Canada for our obligatory five months in order to maintain our health insurance in Ontario. Yes, it's wonderful to see friends, to experience the changing of the seasons, and to spend time in a country where everything "works" - but basically we can't wait to get back to our van (currently in Posadas, northern Argentina) to resume our trip of a lifetime heading up into Brazil.
With reference to those life goals and aspirations above, where are you now?
Leaving Canada in January of 2004, we had fully expected to reach Ushuaia and be back home within a period of eighteen months. It's now almost two and a half years later, and we have absolutely no interest in terminating our travels. Now dealing with a serious health issue, we are even more determined to "experience the world" while we can. Current plans have us driving the van back to Canada over the next year or so, but we are constantly tempted to ship the van to Southern Africa or to Australia or perhaps to South East Asia. Don't think our vagabond life is about to end anytime soon!
• Ready to answer the same questions in Your Words?
We’re ready to read them and we’ll be choosing the best to show-off in future installments of Your Words.
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