Bun in the oven

Trip Start Dec 03, 2005
Trip End Jul 19, 2007

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Monday, April 17, 2006

The second of my overnight trip adventures was about to begin. Brasilia is super expensive even by Brazilian standards so as I had already gone over budget I decided to just make it a daytrip. I was contemplating committing the worst sin and going on a city tour, but their prices matched that of accomodation so my poor feet had to suffer another day of lots of walking.

Brasilia was built from nothing in three years and replaced Río de Janeiro as the capital in 1960. Lúcio Costa's, the main urban planner, plans were so detailed that they stipulated which zones were to be residential and which were to be commercial. They limited where industries can settle, where certain buildings can be built and how tall those buildings can be etc. Costa's idea was that Brasilia be shaped like a butterfly. However, looking at the design, it seems to be shaped more like an aeroplane instead.

I now had only three weeks left on my visa. In the words of Willy Wonka "so much to do, so little time". I wanted to see all these famous colonial towns where gold, churches and Aleijadinho featured so prominently, do a 3 day trek with a view down to the Baía de Guanabara (where Río can be found), visit Río and her famous beaches, Ilha Grande and Paratí (both also famous for their beaches).

Despite my plans, I only got to do about a fifth of it all. Of the five colonial towns, I only saw Ouro Preto ("black gold") with all it's churches. I got a strange sense of flower power here as for some reason, Volkswagen Beetles just seemed to come out of the woodwork and Busy Lizzies occupied all the nooks and crannies you could set your eyes on! Herbie has come home! Speaking of old things, there is an old colonial mine here that you can visit and of all the times I should have had my headtorch with me, it was when I visited this mine. Strangely enough, you don't have to be accompanied and there are lots of unlit side passages which are obviously out of bounds. But they are not blocked off. Wink wink nudge nudge. So what makes something more tempting than going somewhere you're not supposed to go? But I couldn't go as I didn't have any light or maybe I could with a bit of improvisation, an alternative use for the light of a camera screen! Naughty naughty!!! Digital-1 : 35mm-1.

Ouro Preto has hundreds of churches but I found the Igreja de Sao Francisco de Assis the most captivating as the entire exterior was carved by Aleijadinho, a chap that lived in the eighteenth century and despite having lost the use of his legs and hands, managed to design and carve some fascinating pieces of art. His most famous piece of work, the Prophets, is found in Congonhas, which I didn't get to see. Well, they do say it's always good not to see everything and leave something for the next time you visit.

With time pressing on I headed off to Petropolis. This was once the summer home of the Portuguese Imperial family and also home to Santos Dumont who, on the 23rd October 1906, was the first to fly more than 25m in a self propelled plane. I had a bad feeling about this as I arrived on a Sunday, the day when everything is usually closed. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that the tourist offices were open from the early hour of 8.30am so I quickly equipped myself with a map and followed the tourist route to the main attractions.

The palace is impeccable but I figured there was something wrong when they asked me to clean the floor. I was given a pair of velvet slippers to wear over my sandals on entering and went sliding around on the shiny surface, polishing it along the way. Kill two birds with one stone why don't you?! Paying to clean a palace?? What next????

The Sunday phenomenon did have it's effect though when I tried to find a tour that was leaving next day to go over the Parque Nacional da Serra dos Orgaos towards Teresopolis. This is one of the most famous treks you can do in Brazil with stunning views of the Guanabara bay where Río is located. So instead of staying around for another day I decided to head off to Teresopolis and see if I could do it backwards. Although Teresopolis is just a concrete town it has the most beautiful setting you can imagine. Even if I ended up not doing anything in Teresopolis, the journey from Petropolis was worth it for the scenery alone.

Teresopolis is a rockclimbers heaven. There is one piece of vertical rock which is called the "Dedo de Deus" ("finger of God") where rockclimbers flock to. I would like to have tried to climb this but then the usual low season / no other tourists problem hit me so it was not to be. And neither was the three day walk across the park. But that didn't stop me from doing the first days worth of the walk by myself all the way to Pedra do Sino.

Ironically enough, the day before I decided to do the day trip a group of gap year students appeared in the hostel and guess what they were about to do?? Yup, the three day trek! Unfortunately I had already spent too long here so didn't have enough time to join them. I started off with the group but had to leave them shortly afterwards as I had to come back down before dark while they were continuing on. Their guide, Enrique, said that I should start my return by 2pm so I had to make sure I made it to the top by then. I made it with two minutes and six seconds to spare, 13:57:54 to be precise! I had a quick bite to eat and then started on my way down.

Soon enough, while it was still daylight outside, it was dusk under the forested canopy, the time when sounds are augmented by the darkness. The slightest sound, a crack in the branches, rustling in the undergrowth brings out your worst fears of encountering some fierce wild animal when caught out in the unknown. But the Busy Lizzies kept me on the right path and were like the emergency lights on the aisle of a plane where their bright red, pink and white petals shone out among the green lining each side of the path.

As darkness increased, more animals started to make themselves known. First it was a variety of birds, then the monkeys and then the frogs. And then, just ten minutes before the end of the trail I saw an armadillo sniffing around the fallen leaves for dinner. Standing still to watch this was worth the sore knees and feet after a 30km trek!

So I caught the bus back to the hostel and cleaned myself in preparation for my visit to the ex-capital of Brazil - Río de Janeiro. Bus drivers in Río have got to be ex-Grand Prix drivers, I'm convinced of it, playing leapfrog as they overtake each other again and again. A trip on the public bus is definitely not recommended for the weak of heart!

Unfortunately I arrived here just before Easter weekend was to hit so a lot of people had left to go for Ilha Grande, which put paid to my plans for visiting there as everywhere was booked up. Oh well, instead I got to meet up with Claudia and Rita, two lovely Brazilians who I met on the stomach churning 4WD trip between Caburé and Tutoía. Río is lovely and you could easily spend a week there with all the things there are to see and do. Ipanema (pron Ee-pah-nay-mah) and Copacabana are as beautiful as everyone says they are and if you want a view (albeit of all the pollution) from Cristo Redentor, early morning is definitely the time to go.

I had heard all sorts of bad reports from fellow travellers on my way down but strangely never once felt threatened in Río, even while out at night with Claudia and Rita. I did see people eyeing my pockets but that was about the extent of it.

This was pretty much the end of my visit to Brazil, for the moment. In preparation for my longest journey yet (22 hours from Sao Paolo to Corumbá, or 34 hours from Paratí including some time spent waiting in Sao Paolo) I spent a day in Paratí relaxing on the beach. All too soon it was time to exit stage left into Bolivia before my visa expired.

Things I learned


Remember, I don't really have that much Portuguese so what I write below may not be 100% correct!

Brazil is the fifth largest country (after Russia, Canada, China and the USA) and borders every country in South America except Chile and Ecuador. It's total area is 8.5 million square kilometers covering nearly half of the entire continent.

From the start of the Portuguese colonization to 1851, 4,507,940 Africans were brought to Brazil as slaves. They brought with them their own religion, technology, wisdom, art and enterprising spirit. From these, today's culture flourished.

Evidence of the slave trade dates as far back as the first century AD along the coast of the Red Sea in Alexandria. The Arab trade lasted around fourteen centuries while the biggest demographic removal of people was with the transatlantic trade. This started with the Portuguese expansion along the African coast during the fifteenth century. It peaked in the eighteenth century with the spread of plantations in the Americas and continued until the end of the nineteenth century.

Brazil was a Portuguese colony until 1807 when Dom Joao VI, prince regent, transferred the royal court here during Napoleon's march on Lisbon. He became king in 1816 and declared Rìo de Janeiro the capital of the United Kingdom of Portugal and Brazil. This made Brazil the only colony in the New World to serve as the seat of a European monarch. In 1821, Dom Joao returned to Portugal and left his son, Dom Pedro, in Brazil as prince regent. When the parliament tried to return Brazil back to colonial status Dom Pedro resisted and crowned himself Emperor. Portugal was too weak to fight and so independence was achieved in 1822. Slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888 and in 1889, there was a military coup to topple the Empire and a new republic was born.


My fears for not being able to get by in Brazil were completely unfounded. Admittedly I have the advantage of Spanish (and a bit of Italian) which is very similar to Portuguese and from this I managed to build my conversational Portuguese. By the end of my two months I even had people asking me if I had lived in Brazil for some time!!! I must admit, if ever I do manage to get home again, Portuguese lessons will be one of the first things I look for. Luckily I remembered some things from my Spanish language history and Phonetics lectures that helped along the way. For example, in some romance languages words beginning with "f" were maintained while in others it was replaced with a "h". And so the following:

Feito vs hecho (done)
Falar vs hablar (to speak)
Formiga vs hormiga (ant)
Forno vs horno (oven)

I also noticed that where Spanish had an "i", Portuguese didn't and vice versa, eg:

SP mantenimiento vs PT mantenimento (maintenance)
SP tiempo vs PT tempo (time)
SP más PT mais (more)

And of all the places to learn Portuguese, Brazil is the better one as they speak much clearer and it has progressed on while Portuguese of Portugal has remained somewhat classical (or so I have been told by a Brazilian!).

As for Brazil, what did I think of it? Whilst I may be a bit premature in singing praises for Brazil as I intend to come back to Manaus I thought it was absolutely fantastic, apart from the cost of living. It is very expensive compared to other countries and I went over budget despite not doing too many tours. I've met many super people and can't wait to come back here again some day soon.

It has such a diverse set of people, weather and terrain. In fact, I'd draw the dividing North / South line at Salvador / Lencois for all three of these. The terrain changes to mountainous south of here and with this you start to feel the cold as the evening draws in (or at least I did).

Did I mention juices? You cannot possibly come here and not try the juices. There are hundreds of varieties. The best, for everything I can think of, has to be acerola. Perfect for thirst and perfect if you're not feeling too good as only 200ml gives you over 1500% of your daily Vitamin C needs!

As for buses, unlike Venezuela, more often than not they actually arrive early. I'm sure it's because the bus driver is doing over the limit but none the less I arrived safe and sound on all occasions.

Two months was definitely not enough to see this beautiful country and to be honest I don't think even six would be enough. Distances are enormous. In order to see most of the places I wanted to see I had to do some physically draining overnight trips and visits to towns only as a daytrip in between. This was definitely not planned for.

You can either choose a region of Brazil and explore that in depth or do a quick trip around the whole of the country seeing places for a shorter time. But whatever way you do it, you won't regret it in the slightest!
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