It’s not very easy to take a picture of the two together, but they were playing on the breakfast table this morning…
I’m often asked by friends and students “What do British people think of when they think of Brazil?”. I have to say beautiful beaches and women, carnival, the amazon rain-forest and crime.
Dealing with the last first, there is undoubtedly serious crime in Brazil, particularly in the big cities. However, and I hope it stays this way, I haven’t personally had experienced this. In fact, I’ve been told several stories about people going to the UK and having things stolen that weren’t stolen in Brazil. I think with some common sense and staying away from certain neighbourhoods, then there isn’t a huge amount to worry about.
With regards my other answers, they are true, but there is so much more that Brazil has to offer. For example, the beaches aren’t just Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil has about 2800km of beaches and, in my experience, most of them are spectacular and many exceed the beaches I’ve seen in other parts of the world.
So, apart from the beaches, where would I suggest visiting.
Foz de Iguaçu/Itaipu
Foz de Iguaçu (or Iguazu in Argentina) should, in my opinion, be considered as one of the natural 7 wonders of the world, however, Itaipu Dam is considered by American Engineers to be one of the engineering world. Where else, within a few kilometres travel, can you see TWO such sites.
Foz de Iguaçu is a huge waterfall which is over 270m long, consists of upto 275 individual falls with a drop of approximately 82m. It is on the Iguaçu river which delimits the border between Brazil and Argentina. The Devils throat is quite spectacular. On the Argentinian side you can get almost to the very top of the falls, whilst from the Brazilian side you can take a boat and travel to the base of the falls.
The Itaipu Dam was ‘jointly’ built by the Paraguayan and Brazilian governments but was mostly funded and constructed by Brazil. It dams the Paraná River just above where it meets the Iguaçu River. The convolution of the 2 rivers marks the border between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, which is unique in the world as well!
The dam generates 20% of Brazil’s total electrical needs and all of Paraguay’s. It is possible to take a tour of the dam which includes the control centre, a drive over the top and base of the dam. If you are lucky, like we were. you can see excess water being released down the spillway, but this is only about 10% of the days.
For more pictures of both these sites, please see our photos.
Colonial towns such as Ouro Preto and Tiradentes
These are historic cities founded by the Portuguese colonizers which are in the state of Minas Gerais (where we live). They give a glimpse into early life of Brazil. In my opinion, many of these towns and cities are quite similar but a visit to one or more is a must.
Ouro Preto (black gold) is today on Unesco’s list of world heritage sites. It was the focal point of Brazil’s 18th century gold rush and gold can still be seen today decorating many of the numerous historic catholic churches. It is set in a valley and was once the state’s capital until Belo Horizonte was built.
Rio de Janeiro
Most people know of Rio so this is very brief. It is really beautiful city and has many attractions such as the harbour, the lagoon, Sugar Loaf, beaches such as Copacabana and Ipanema and of course Corcovada (where the famous Christ the Redeemer is to be found). There are many many other attractions, great restaurants. I currently rate Rio as my second favourite city in the world.
The above are all places we have visited. The ones below come highly recommended and are on our list of places to visit.
Fernando do Noronha
Fernando do Noronha is an island archipeligo about 350km off the northeastern coast of Brazil. In many ways it is the Atlantic’s Galapagos with the upwelling of water drawing much marine life. However, it doesn’t have as large a diversity of terrestrial animals as does the Galapagos Islands. It is regarded as the best diving in Brazil, a fact I have yet to test.
Bonito is famous for its crystal clear rivers that are a result of a natural filtration. It is being preserved to keep its pristine natural beauty. Activities include walking/treking and swimming/snorkeling/diving in the rivers and caves to be found in the area.
The amazon is a river basin surrounded by rainforest and is located in the countries of Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Surinam and French Guiana. The region and diversity is so varied that I’ll mention only a few things that I’d like to see and do. In no particular order, see the confluence of the Rio Negro and Amazon river, swim with the river dolphins and experience the rainforest and jungle.
The Pantanal is the world’s largest wetland covering an area of around 140,000 sq km. It is renowned for its bio-diversity. It is also easier to spot the wildlife in the Pantanal than in the Amazon as there are less hiding places. As Bonito, it is predominantly located in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. There are thousands of different vertebrate species to be found there.
This is a region covering 1000 sq km of in the northeastern Brazilian state of Maranhão. Despite heavy rainfall, it is a region largely devoid of vegetation with many discreet sand dunes and lakes.
As and when we visit these places, we’ll write more.
So you see Brazil isn’t just Rio, beautiful people and crime. It has far more to offer.
Have you ever heard so much about a place that you think it must be overrated? You’re sure you’re going to be disappointed when you finally see it. That was my feeling about Inhotim, an open-air contemporary art museum 60 km from our home in Belo Horizonte. Last Sunday we eventually managed to go there and I have to say that Inhotim is everything I heard about and more! We loved it.
When we got there, the place was very crowded, because we chose to go on a long weekend right after the opening of new exhibitions. Later I read that on that day, Oct 11th, they had more than 4000 visitors, a record since the opening in 2006. So we stood in line for half an hour or so but we had decided to spend the day there.
Installations, sculptures and paintings by contemporary artists from the 1960s onwards are part of the permanent collection. Some are outdoors while others are housed in 16 pavilions scattered around the park. According to the museum’s website, there are 600 hectares of Natural Reserve, 45 hectares of gardens with botanical collections and 5 lakes. Nature in its exuberance, as you can see in the pictures below.
For us Brazilians, some names stand out like that of landscape designer Burle Marx, inspiration for the amazing gardens, and modernist artists such as Helio Oiticica, Amilcar de Castro and movie-maker Neville D’Almeida. I was also surprised to see an installation by Olafur Eliasson, whose work I’d seen in the Turbine hall at Tate Modern back in 2004. And Steve was very impressed with a sound installation by Janet Cardiff with music recorded at Salisbury Cathedral.
This is a place we are definitely going back, especially with our dear guests from out of state or overseas.
Thursdays and Fridays: 9:30 – 4:30 pm
Saturdays, Sundays and National Holidays: 9:30 – 5:30 pm
Admission for adults: R$15.00
Click here to see how to get there.
Congratulations to Rio de Janeiro for winning the right to host the 2016 Olympic Games. But is it good or bad for Brazil? What do Brazilians think?
It’s fair to say that there are mixed opinions about hosting the Olympics. There are those that say the Games will boost tourism, improve infrastructure, and reduce crime. Conversely, there are those that are worried about corruption.
Can anyone imagine a more beautiful location and stunning back drop than Rio de Janeiro? Rio is a truly gorgeous city with great beaches, mountains and warm lively hospitable people. But Rio is just one very small part of Brazil, there are other equally amazing places throughout the country that are little known outside of Brazil. If the Olympics bring tourists to Rio, lets hope they find time to visit some of the other incredible places in Brazil (more about these in a later post). Brazil’s tourism potential is sadly currently under-exploited. Brazil boasts stunning natural scenery, in addition to beautiful (and cheap) beaches to mention but two. In fact, those in the northeast of the country that are just a few hours flight from southern Europe and the United States. The Games can only aid in the development of this potential.
There are undoubted concerns after the Pan-American Games of 2007 that the Olympics will be beset with allegations of corruption and wasted expenditure. I have little doubt that there will be some of this, but what major project anywhere in the world doesn’t suffer similar problems (I’m sure Londoners would concur). I hope the various governmental authorities have learnt from the Pan-American Games and find ways to minimise this. There is a deep-set belief among Brazilians that corruption is ever-present. I think that this is in part due to history and in part represents the current behaviour of some politicians and companies. It won’t be easy to convince them otherwise but, with openness and changed policies, maybe this perception can be gradually changed.
Another concern is Rio being left with “White Elephants” that are little used by the citizens. I think if Rio/Brazil can use the games to tap into the potential sporting prowess of a growing population (not just for football/soccer), then this infrastructure will be used. However, it needs to be made available to all sections of society, hence it needs to be cheap to use.
Lastly, there are concerns that the money could be better spent on healthcare, education, housing and other important social issues. This is more difficult to answer. There is progress being made on these fronts, albeit slowly. The problems in Brazil’s big cities are not trivial and there is no quick easy answer, but if the funding for the Olympics improves housing and educations and does something to improve the quality of life of the favela’s (slum’s) inhabitants in Rio de Janeiro, there will be long-term benefits there and, hopefully, elsewhere. There is no doubt that crime is a serious concern and something which will need to be resolved prior to the Olympics in order to reassure the influx of tourists.
My personal opinion is that the Games represent a huge opportunity for Brazil to be recognised for what it is:
- A huge country with enormous economic and touristic potential
- A country with beautiful warm open people, stunning beaches and diverse cultures
So lets hope that the Olympics are a huge success and bring financial and social rewards to Rio and Brazil as a whole.
Whilst Brazil is a great place to live with many many positives, unsurprisingly, there are a number of things I miss from the UK. Some of these are trivial, others less so, but after 4 years, and still missing them, I guess they must have some significance. So here they are in no specific order.
Friends and Family
I think the reason for this is clear, so I wont say more.
Cricket and Rugby
Why cricket and rugby and not football? I guess the answer is obvious – Brazilians (not all but most) love football so there is plenty to watch on TV, normally including 3 or 4 matches from the English Premier League each week. However, it is impossible to watch cricket here. I have to follow it on the internet, but thanks to Test Match Special on the radio via the internet, I was able to follow our re-taking of The Ashes! A pity the one day series has been so bad.
Unlike cricket, there is some rugby on TV and Belo Horizonte even has its own team. I found this out when I taught the club’s president for a while. The TV has European club rugby matches on, but they are usually recorded and, therefore, not so interesting when you know the results. It is also possible, on cable TV, to watch the French Six Nations matches, but only the French games. Shame it has to be the French!
Who remembers Skol from the UK? Well, here it is perhaps the most popular beer – enough said? Seriously, Brazilian Skol is much better than our version, but virtually all the beers here are lagers/pilsners. Whilst I like them, sometimes I really crave a draught 6X, London Pride, Old Speckled Hen or one of our delicious real ales. It is possible to buy cans of some of these, but they are expensive and who likes canned beer? There is a local German bar that serves draught Guinness which goes somewhat to soothing those pangs.
Television, especially the BBC
I still struggle with understanding Portuguese properly, so long for decent TV. Yes, we get the US sitcoms, CNN and BBC World, but this isn’t the same as television in the UK. Even when I was young and living in California, I missed British TV. I guess it is cultural, but the American shows just don’t hit the spot.
By the way, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the BBC, BBC World is not the same. Sure it is the same company, but if I were to give the BBC in the UK 9 out of 10, I would give BBC World 1 out of 10! Fortunately, I’ve recently discovered a way to watch the BBC.
Strong mature cheddar cheese
This is perhaps the one thing I miss the most. Sure there is nice cheese here. You can get most European cheeses, but the thing Brazilians call cheddar is the tasteless version that can be found in the USA. If anyone ever visits, please bring me some!
As a very fussy eater, I can honestly say that Brazilian food is excellent. I don’t like everything, but that goes for the UK as well. However, the things I miss the most, in no particular order, are curry, Branston Pickle, Fish and Chips, Horseraddish sauce, Bovril, McVities Plain(Dark) Chocolate Digestives,and English mustard. Who notices a bit of a pattern? Yes, I like spicy, flavourful food and Brazilians tend to prefer plainer tastes such as rice and beans.
In Belo Horizonte there aren’t any ‘real’ seasons. Sure there is the rainy season and the dry season. but the temperatures never get really cold, the trees don’t lose their leaves, the length of the day doesn’t change much. Sometimes, I long for some cool weather but not the dreary, sunless winter months of Britain.
Cheap computers and components
Although it is possible to buy almost anything electrical in Brazil, the things are usually very expensive. For example, I just bought an Apple iPhone and the cost of it (with a similar package to one in the UK) was approximately double. I paid R$1449 (roughly £490) for the mid-range one. This isn’t just for Apple products, but is particularly applicable for electronics companies who don’t have factories in Brazil or other South American countries.
Although I mention an expensive product, the same applies to laptops, desktops, video cards etc from other suppliers such as Dell and HP.
Why outdoor activities when the weather is so much better than the UK? The answer to this depends on the activity in question.
First, I like walking in the countryside and even around towns or cities. Where we live in Belo Horizonte, it isn’t easy to walk for two principal reasons: security and topography. Even though I haven’t personally witnessed any serious crime in Brazil, some of my students tell very unpleasant stories. It is therefore considered unwise to walk in many areas both in and outside of the city.
The second reason is the topography. Belo Horizonte (beautiful horizon is the translation) is a very hilly city. So to walk anywhere here means, almost certainly, scaling small mountains which is good exercise but not quite the pleasant stroll that I prefer. Of course this is specific to where we live.
The second outdoor activity I miss is gardening (please don’t laugh for those who saw my garden in Kingston). As most people choose to live in flats, there is little chance to garden. We have a small herb garden on our balcony, but this doesn’t count as the balcony is enclosed in glass. We are thinking about buying a house in the future mainly for this reason.
Lastly, and yes I’ve started to struggle to think of 10 things, is:
People in the UK, and I was one, complain about the public transport being late, dirty and many other things. In Brazilian cities, the only significant public transport is buses. These get really busy and hot apparently because they don’t have air-conditioning. I say apparently because I’ve never actually tried them yet. Imagine being on a bus full of people, some who may have been labouring all day, in direct sun with temperatures in the shade in the mid-thirties centigrade. Suddenly, the British trains, tubes and buses don’t seem so bad. The UK has an established public transport system, perhaps with room for improvement, but, in Brazil, there is little option other than using a car for those who can afford one.
Concluding, there isn’t so much missing in Brazil. Most things can be found with some effort, but there are those few things that I shall always miss. Thankfully, the UK isn’t so far away.
In the future …
- The 10 things I don’t miss about England
- The best things in Brazil
- The things I’d change in Brazil if I was President