Brazil

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Angel was in Paris for a business trip last week, and in Abu Dhabi for another one this week, it got quiet around the house in the evenings, although I enjoyed lots of me time.

Sometimes I felt a bit lonely, to steer away from “evil thoughts” I binge read, Michael Palin came to my rescue, he told me all about Brazil.

I have an unfinished business with this country, I tasted the good stuff last July when I visited Rio de Janeiro for a business trip of my own, my time there elapsed way too fast, it was mostly spent commuting in and out of the city to my place of work, so I picked up this book in an attempt to catch up on what I’ve missed.

I was rewarded with more than I have bargained for; in his latest book (Brazil) the veteran traveler explains how a bunch of distinctive characteristics, often contrasted, are finely woven together to make this one of a kind spirit called Brazil, the land of originality, festivals, Guaraná, music, sea, rivers, mountains, music, coffee, Samba, superstition, Churrasco, homosexuality, music, style, violence, Pele, music, Capoeira, Gisele Bundchen, Jaguars, Piranhas, and music. He sure sounds like he had one hell of an extended party.

I first downloaded the audio book and started listening to it during my daily commute to Abu Dhabi; the audio version is narrated by the author himself, which brings the story even more to life.

I was captivated from the moment he spoke about sleeping amongst the ferocious Yanomami fighters in Amazonia, one of the 200 or so indigenes tribes living in the area since the Europeans first arrived. Their women wear nothing but a red apron around their waists it seems, and their men have got swagger says Palin.

“I have complicated feelings about being able to just fly here. Three hours door-to door from my hotel in Boa Vista”

I went ahead and bought the book that weekend, because I found it beautifully illustrated with amazing images taken by Basil Pao during Palin’s journey. Hearing about the trip is one thing, and seeing it through the lens of one of the world’S most talented photographers is what made it worth the money for me.

Apparently, Palin neglected visiting this vast piece of land before despite the humungous space it occupies on the world map, he came to realize that around the time he was planning to retire. Brazil’s emergence as the world’s 5th largest economy in the past two years, and the fact that Palin knew close to nothing about a country the size of a small continent, got him back on his feet and on the road with a camera crew to film one more series for the BBC.

“Once a traveler, always a traveler, and I realized that however happy I might be at home, as long as there were maps and guidebooks and airline schedules I was still fatally susceptible to the lure of the open road”

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On his first day in Rio de Janeiro, Palin describes the view as seen from his hotel window, the sun comes up on a Sunday morning and magical life springs into the 4 kilometers stretch of golden sands that make the world’s most famous beach, Copacabana. 

“One of the carriageways is closed today and a mix of joggers, walkers and cyclist have already taken possession. They are people of all age, shapes and sizes. Grey-haired ladies in bikinis, tight-buttocked roller-bladers, large men with breast and bellies swinging out over a minuscule pair of speedo, nearly naked eighty-four-year-olds hand in hand, bodybuilders flicking their hands as they go. All embodying one of Brazil’s most delightful characteristics – a complete absence of embarrassment”

Exactly the way I saw it…..

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 Morning Yoga

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Although football is the national sport of Brazil, Beach Volleyball is equally popular and wildly practiced in coastal cities, especial in Rio, that’s how the Cariocas stay fit

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Street vendors

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The famous Waves of Copacabana, designed by Roberto Burle Marx

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Its not the way it looks; it really is all about the way it makes you feel, like you have just arrived in the most beautiful place in the world.

Many years ago this place was made famous for all the wrong reasons, the violence and the crime that took place here were way out of control, today tourists are still warned not to hang out at night alone, someone even advised me not to walk barefoot at the beach to avoid getting disposed drug syringes accidently stuck into my feet.

For that Angel wouldn’t let me take any valuables, including my wedding ring and my DSLR camera, so I had to do with my trusty point and shoot in such a photogenic city.

Trust me I cried….

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Then I went shopping, and charged it all on his credit card 🙂

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Ipanema beach

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The city was crowded at the time of my visit because of the convention; securing a decent accommodation was such a mission. For the first 3 days I stayed at a terrible hotel, I found out after arriving there, it was located about four blocks away from the beach, edging a small favela.

From my window I had a cute view of the favela and Cristo Redentor from a distance, very Rio I though, until one night I was disturbed by the sound of a gone shot. A brief commotion broke out in the neighborhood just as I was getting ready to go to bed, I didn’t get much sleep that night for sure, I left the next day.

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This stuff is good. Whoever discovered it, bless him. I mean that with all sincerity and genuineness. I thought it was the sturdy Brazilian coffee that will turn my nerves into steel, for all I knew this Guarana based fizzy drink was making me walk on walls! it got me through long evening shopping trips with much ease, so no complaints really…..

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The Maracana is undergoing a serious makeover for the Football World Cup 2014, worth more than USD 423 million. It was basically a construction site when I saw it, still I couldn’t have left the city without seeing the most iconic building in the history of football.

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Rio de Janeiro

The visitor center is incomparable to that of the Bernabeu or Camp Nou, but it was fairly enjoyable.

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Christ the Redeemer stands 30 meters higher than the 706 meters Corcovado Mountain that makes its base; it has been up there for 80 years, with arms stretched wide open and head slightly tilted looking down at the people of Rio.

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I couldn’t have picked a better morning to visit it; it was such a wonderful misty morning and the view looked dreamlike, it took whatever was left of my breath away.

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On my one day off, I joined an organized tour to Favela Rocinha, one of the more developed favelas in Rio. It houses more than sixty thousand people which makes it the largest in Brazil.

It wasn’t until our guide announced that it was too late to have second thoughts that I realized what I have really gotten myself into.  From now on you are solely responsible of whatever happens to you in there, or just wait in the bus, he said.

He also warned us against getting nosy or causing any sort of trouble, because he still needs to work here tomorrow…..

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As soon as I got off my Motorbike Taxi, a popular mean of transporting authorized visitors to the top of the hill on which the favela sits, two enormous dogs appeared out of nowhere behind me, they started fighting for a piece of meat (I think) that was thrown into the street by the keeper of a nearby butcher shop. No dog seemed to be winning that fight; their barking was frightening and they were defiantly going for a kill. I am not sure if this is how they are normally fed, or if it was the butcher’s special welcome for us.

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The rich lives next to the poor with an amazing view of beach in Rio

Later I struggled to keep a straight face while the guide told us horror stories about drug lords that rule the neighborhood and random killings that take place there frequently. This is one of the more urbanized and secure favelas, there is a strong police and army presence here, he added.

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I smiled at this boy and pointed at my camera, he paused for me, I shot him. Later we stopped for snacks at a local bakery, I was about to take a bite of my passion fruit cake when I felt a gentle tap on my leg, as I lowered my head and my arm to check it out, the same boy swiftly snatched the cake from my hand and disappeared in seconds. This must be the cutest robbery incident I will ever encounter in my entire life.

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Teenage boys from Rocinha playing 101 Samba beats to entertain us

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This used to be a house, it was until last week! These unauthorized, unregulated, and unstable houses have a tendency to slant down the hill and disappear….

rio de janeiroBloody action took place here last night

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I bought his painting, and was given the chance to take a photo with him. In case he makes it real big one day….

“I am slowly learning not to worry that Brazilians don’t worry about the things we worry about”

Down South Palin got a taste of European Brazil, the predominantly German southern side of the country seems to have preserved its European heritage to a far extent, the author sometimes had to remind himself that he is in a completely different continent. The biggest Oktoberfest celebration outside Germany is held there every year, and their most recognizable product is long legged German – Brazilian models.

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Everywhere he went, Palin experienced a different Brazil, to some it might sound like the country is suffering a major identity crisis, at the end of the day whether it was cowboys or African descends Palin was talking to or about, he figured that they’ve all somehow managed to stay Brazilian.

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Angel brought home Ladurée Macaroons, and stories about the snowy weather and the business. I must admit, I was a bit envious, especially that I was supposed to join him on this trip, but I had to work. I was about to give him some stories back, about a country that I truly felt transported to through words, but I worried he’ll think I spent too much time alone!

Until I return, Brazil…..

2 thoughts on “Brazil

    1. It is one of my favorites as well!
      This art school and gallery, based in the favela, invests in the creative energies of the youth and offers them the chance to grow and earn money in a legitimate way. I was truly touched and proud.
      The paintings are impressive, the one I bought is of the view of the favela at night, which I was trying to take a photo of during my visit, but it was impossible without my DSLR and tripod…

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