Entries by Marilyn Diggs

Journey through the Fjords of Patagonia

By Marilyn Diggs
December 19, 2008

Ahoy, nature lovers and adventurers. How about an eight-day boat trip guided by experienced explorers into one of the world’s last untouched ecosystems? Cruise inside sea passages, fly-fish secret coves, kayak waterways, trek lush forests and gaze at hanging glaciers one day; then pamper yourself in a luxurious thermal spa the next. Chile’s Northern Patagonia, a wilderness begging to be explored, is on its way to becoming a world-class ecotourism destination. Even so, it is still off-the-beaten-track, perfect for those with wanderlust who relish solitude. Navigating deep into calm ocean passages and through a maze of islands is many a water-lover’s dream. The wish comes true in Chile, where mainland Patagonia fractures into a myriad of islands formed by millennium volcanoes, geographical shifting and melting glacial ice.

The trip begins in Puerto Montt, Chile, where a private charter plane flies travelers to Melinka port in the Guaitecas Archipelago, declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 2008. Next, you board the comfortable, 8-passenger motor yacht Noctiluca named after Patagonia’s luminous plankton. Made from Patagonian cypress wood, it combines traditional craftsmanship of the region with the latest technology. Chile’s best wines accompany the delicious meals served on board.

Anchors away, as seafarers head for the first destination – Jchica Island. Spy on sea lions, sea otters, regional birds, dolphins and if Neptune is willing, the great blue whale. As the boat heads towards sheltered fjords in the west, it passes Corcovado Gulf, a spawning place for this rare whale species.

Jchica Island
After two days at sea, passengers dock at Isla Jchica – over seven thousand hectares of primeval nature and postcard vistas. Travelers bunk at the Jchica Island Retreat, which is completely integrated with nature and the delicate ecosystem. Three unobtrusive wooden cabins play hide and seek in the emerald flora.

Trekking excursions lead hikers to unique vegetation (such as sphagnum peat) in the ancient Evergreen Forest, secluded seashores, misty lagoons and the quiet marina. Austral dolphins and seals play in the bay, while the Magellan woodpecker, austral seagull and black-browed albatross circle above. There are over 50 species of land and sea birds, migrant and stationary, which breed on this island.

The first people to colonize the Chilean Patagonia canals were the Chonos Indians. They traveled the archipelago islands in canoes (dalcas) in search of food and shelter, wearing only a leather cloak and loincloth. Spaniards recorded their presence as early as the second half of the 16th century. Until recently, this area has remained relatively untouched because of its isolation. Sea kayaking through the fjords lets one re-live history and at the same time get close to the dolphins, cormorants and penguins. After an invigorating day of hiking, boating, kayaking and photographing, guests relax beside the fireplace in the cozy clubhouse bar and restaurant.

Puyuhuapi Lodge and Spa
A morning’s voyage departing from Jchica Island ends at Dorita Bay, the site of one of Chile’s most prestigious hot-spring resorts. Visitors to Puyuhuapi Lodge and Spa (pictured at the top of the article) find active tourism options (hiking, biking, kayaking), a relaxing spa with thalassotherapy (healing related to the sea), delectable meals and rustic-chic rooms. The impressive architecture of the wooden lodge was inspired by 18th C. Jesuit churches.

Guides take guests on hikes to places such as the Hanging Glacier on the western edge of a gigantic ice field, inside Queulat National Park. Hikers cross a suspended wooden bridge over a surging river and trek through the misty forest to the Tempanos Lagoon where a boat transports them even closer to the turquoise ice table. The threads that unravel from the blue ice are actually gushing waterfalls tumbling down sheer rock.

Water sports like fly-fishing and kayaking take sport enthusiasts into the fjords, channels and lagoons. After all that exercise, you relax in the spa’s soothing hot-springs pools both outside and indoors, compliments of five nearby volcanoes.

San Rafael Glacier Up Close
The last adventure is via the Patagonia Express catamaran to the San Rafael Lagoon for the unforgettable iceberg expedition. The 70-passenger, luxury two-story cruiser serving gourmet meals makes the all-day trip top-end. The catamaran glides over inlets and sea, past timbered hills and snow tipped Andes. Aquamarine ice sculptures dot the lagoon in front of the 2km-long and more than 70m-tall turquoise face of San Rafael Glacier. Zodiacs (inflatable motorboats) take passengers close to the blue giant, part of the Northern Ice Fields. The excursion ends at 10:30 p.m. at Chacabuco on the mainland at a lovely hotel. The next day travelers follow the famous Carretera Austral highway back to civilization. This journey which explores one of our planet’s last frontiers – the fjords of Northern Patagonia – is an opportunity not to be missed.

More information
About the trip: www.patagoniacanales.com
Guaiteca Archipielago and Jchica Island: www.islajechica.cl
Hotel Puyuhuapi Lodge and Spa: www.mdiggs.com

Previous articles by Marilyn:

Around Brazil: Jap Mountains, When Nature Calls
Around Brazil: Living the Amazon
Brazil: A Spa that Takes Care of Body and Soul
Around South America: Puyuhuapi – Chile’s Patagonian Secret
Around South America: Looking for Adventure in Chile’s Patagonia
Around South America: Road Trip through a Forgotten Land – Aisn, Chile
Conquering Cape Horn
Around Brazil: Hang-Gliding Over Rio
Around Brazil: Sailing in Paraty
Santiago: Gateway to the Chilean Experience
The Enchanting Easter Island
Nature and Nurturing in Chile’s Lake Region
Chilean Patagonia: Going to the Ends of the Earth
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 2
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 1
Spending the Night in the Lost City of the Incas – Machu Picchu
Brazil: Happy Moonlit Trails To You
Brazil: Paradise Found – Fernando de Noronha

Dune Walk in Northeastern Brazil

By Marilyn Diggs
October 27, 2009

One of the poorest states in Brazil is blessed with some of the most astounding landscapes in the country. In Maranhão, white powder dunes reach a height of 40 meters and cradle turquoise and emerald lakes filled by rainwater. The mighty trade winds that can blow up to 70 km/h keep the sand cool, allowing trekkers to kick off their sandals and go native. At sunset, the hanging tangerine ball creates peach, lavender and pale blue nuances across a rolling sea of sand that looks like billowing sheets. This region, advancing 50 km inland from the coast, is called Lenóis Maranhenses (Maranhão Sheets).

Adventure for the Fit
The adventurous have to earn these privileged vistas inside the 155,000 hectare national park. Our extraordinary 15-day trip will be made by plane, bus, car, van, 4×4, dune buggy, motor boat, speed boat, jangada (type of sail boat), schooner, ferry boat, raft, canoe, horse and on foot.

First, we fly to the capital, São Lus – the historical “City of Tiles”- founded by the French in 1612. Then we take a two-hour bus ride into the interior of the state. Dusty towns of roaming goats, pigs, dogs and donkeys whiz by. For the rest of the trip the comfy bus is traded for four-wheel drive vehicles as we discover when we stop at a wide place in the road to board a jardineira – a truck with six chairs attached to a covered, open-sided flatbed (see photo). Once the luggage is tied to the roof, we rumble off onto narrow sand trails between groves of caj trees and high shrubs. Passengers hang on and ride the bumps as we head for the tiny town of Santo Amaro, which sleeps at the edge of the giant sand barrier to the sea.

After 90 minutes, we cross a root beer-colored river in our 4×4 and arrive at a rustic inn. There, mouth-watering regional cuisine, mostly fish and fowl, awaits us. Once satisfied, we head back out to the streets thick with sand and wonder if this town will suffer the same fate as others that became buried when wind paths changed. We wade through mid-calf drifts to the plaza for tapioca ice-cream (made from the manioc root), which customers scoop, weigh and pay for.

Cleansing the Soul
As the outing begins, no one can hide the anticipation of seeing Brazil’s wet Sahara. Near the Gaviota Lake area, ivory mountains of sand appear out of nowhere. We begin the ascent. There is no chance of falling, we realize, because our feet sink knee-deep into the sand as we climb to the top of the first mound. The crest’s surface is firmer. Like six tiny ants we make our way, snap photos, drink water and hold onto hats. There are few tourists in September, which gives us the illusion of being trailblazers in an untouched world. It is a joy of total freedom, like Lawrence of Arabia when Peter OToole trades his army uniform for flowing Bedouin robes and cant help but dance.

The strong wind cools the body and disguises the intensity of the sun. Tiny blowing grains sting unprotected legs. Even though the sand clings to sunscreen, my soul feels as pristine as the white dunes where footprints disappear within minutes. Eventually, we descend a tall slope and submerge into a pure rainwater lagoon. Lounging and floating, we’re imagining our next climb – to the highest pinnacle for the magnificent sunset – that suspended sphere glowing over the billowing sheets that called us here. We will pursue the dunes into the Piau and Cear states, but the impact of Lenóis Maranhenses is a hard act to follow.

Resources
Freeway Brasil: Information and reservations office: (11)5088-0999; www.mdiggs.com

Previous articles by Marilyn:

Everything’s Coming Up Roses in Holambra, the City of Flowers
Around Brazil: Embu Das Artes – History, Headdresses and Handicrafts
Full Steam Ahead! Chilean Vineyards by Train
A Trip to Easter Island: Beyond the Obvious
Atacama Desert, Chile – I Came, I Saw, I Explored
Journey through the Fjords of Patagonia
Around Brazil: Jap Mountains, When Nature Calls
Around Brazil: Living the Amazon
Brazil: A Spa that Takes Care of Body and Soul
Around South America: Puyuhuapi – Chile’s Patagonian Secret
Around South America: Looking for Adventure in Chile’s Patagonia
Around South America: Road Trip through a Forgotten Land – Aisn, Chile
Conquering Cape Horn
Around Brazil: Hang-Gliding Over Rio
Around Brazil: Sailing in Paraty
Santiago: Gateway to the Chilean Experience
The Enchanting Easter Island
Nature and Nurturing in Chile’s Lake Region
Chilean Patagonia: Going to the Ends of the Earth
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 2
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 1
Spending the Night in the Lost City of the Incas – Machu Picchu
Brazil: Happy Moonlit Trails To You
Brazil: Paradise Found – Fernando de Noronha

Beautiful Meets Bizarre in Brazilian Swamps

By Marilyn Diggs
October 26, 2010

Before I took this off-road adventure into northeastern Brazil, swamps, in my mind, translated dank, dark and dangerous water labyrinths best to be avoided. What I find, however, is jaw dropping – these fascinating mangroves hold unimaginable, exotic life inside surrealist scenery, where marsh fauna ranges from the exquisite and oh-so-cute, to down-right scary. The waterways we explore begin with the Preguias River, which hugs the Lenis Maranhenses sand dunes and empties into the Atlantic Ocean. But this river is only the appetizer before the Paraiba River Delta – home to over 75 islands – and the marshlands on coastal beaches.

Stunning and Precious
Seated on the cabin roof of a shallow, wooden passenger boat, three of us head into the heart of the Delta. The skipper kills the motor and we watch. Sunset in the swamps can be a festival of color if you know where to go. Before the sun puts on its extravaganza, birds soar home to roost in select trees. Mature scarlet ibis (guars) fly overhead in flocks with their grey young, who have not yet eaten enough crabs to turn their feathers red. These beautiful birds share their tree hotel with white herons and rare blue ones. At the slightest hint of danger, flapping red, white, blue and grey fill the skies, against a glowing backdrop. (See Scarlet Ibis, oil painting above by Marilyn Diggs)

After a few days we leave the Delta behind, as we head into seahorse habitat along the coast. Unlike the stunning guars, it is not so easy to find seahorses. I opt to ride a spirited horse across dunes, along beaches and then onto dusty country roads to Mangue Seco, 7 km from Jericoacoara Resort in Cear state. Arriving at an isolated local restaurant, I squish along marshy paths with owner Marcio to a canoe docked in a saltwater inlet river. As he guides us gondolier-style along the bank, I learn that the female seahorse lays her eggs, and then the male ingests them, incubating the young in his belly until they are born. Only one in five baby seahorses survives. The twisted tree roots along the banks are perfect anchors for the fish’s tail to wrap around so it wont be swept away by currents. Using a sawed-off, plastic Coke bottle, Marcio scoops up a seahorse – it’s an eight-inch, grey, pregnant male (see photo to left). After a quick photo shoot, he is carefully returned to the exact location from where he was taken, since these fish live in pairs and are territorial. We collect more – orange, green but no albino – and gently pour each one back.

Startling and Bizarre
On the next outing, our motor boat’s loud engine stops moaning and we drift into dense vegetation where tangled white roots meet shallow brackish water. The guide’s eyes dart back and forth hunting for camouflaged marvels – monkeys, Kingfishers, lizards. Suddenly, we spot pea-sized eyes above the water. They belong to a four-eyed fish that locals call traioto (anabelps anableps). Dividing the two-pupils in each eye, located on top of its head, is a membrane so it can see below and above the water surface at the same time. Spooked, the long, silver fish skims the water surface and disappears. These fish can also jump very high. We’re glad this one doesn’t. Another one appears. It is 12 inches long and floats dangerously close to a submerged alligator, who ignores it, for now.

Colorful birds and exotic fish are but a sampling of the surprises awaiting you in Brazil’s tropical marshlands, where swamps hold much more than the alligators and monkeys.

Resources
Freeway Brasil: Information and reservations office: 5088-0999; www.freeway.tur.br

Marilyn Diggs is an American living in Brazil for over twenty years. She is a freelance writer, artist, lecturer and author of nine books – two about Brazilian art history. As an art reporter and travel writer she has two monthly columns in Sunday News, Brazil’s English language newspaper that circulates in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia. She has written for the Miami Herald and Museum International , a UNESCO publication. Marilyn has a degree in Latin American Studies and is often contracted by intercultural training services to give talks on expat challenges. www.mdiggs.com

Previous articles by Marilyn:

Brazil: Head for the Hills for an Authentic Festa Junina
Fazenda Capoava: Tourism – Brazilian Style
Dune Walk in Northeastern Brazil
Everything’s Coming Up Roses in Holambra, the City of Flowers
Around Brazil: Embu Das Artes – History, Headdresses and Handicrafts
Full Steam Ahead! Chilean Vineyards by Train
A Trip to Easter Island: Beyond the Obvious
Atacama Desert, Chile – I Came, I Saw, I Explored
Journey through the Fjords of Patagonia
Around Brazil: Jap Mountains, When Nature Calls
Around Brazil: Living the Amazon
Brazil: A Spa that Takes Care of Body and Soul
Around South America: Puyuhuapi – Chile’s Patagonian Secret
Around South America: Looking for Adventure in Chile’s Patagonia
Around South America: Road Trip through a Forgotten Land – Aisn, Chile
Conquering Cape Horn
Around Brazil: Hang-Gliding Over Rio
Around Brazil: Sailing in Paraty
Santiago: Gateway to the Chilean Experience
The Enchanting Easter Island
Nature and Nurturing in Chile’s Lake Region
Chilean Patagonia: Going to the Ends of the Earth
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 2
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 1
Spending the Night in the Lost City of the Incas – Machu Picchu
Brazil: Happy Moonlit Trails To You
Brazil: Paradise Found – Fernando de Noronha

Brazil: Head for the Hills for an Authentic Festa Junina

By Marilyn Diggs
June 14, 2010

June will be here before you can say, pé de moleque” (peanut brittle) and with it comes the lively folkloric parties called Festa Junina. Many of you will attend them in the city at schools, churches and even social clubs, which will be typically decorated with strings of colorful, crepe-paper flags. The dress is country bumpkin, where little girls wear calico dresses with ruffles, straw hats with lace along the rim, fake (usually) braids, and freckles drawn on their cheeks. Boys go for jeans with patches, plaid shirts, a few blackened-out teeth and straw cowboy hats. Children’s activities include fishing for prizes, sack races, three-legged race, and country-style carnie games to win prizes.

Square Dancing, Sweets and Saints
One of the highlights of a Festa Junina is a quadrilha, a type of square dance. Traditionally, a mock bride and groom lead the other couples in the fun. During their wedding ceremony, the groom invariably runs away and is often brought back by an angry father of the bride.

Prepare to savor Brazilian sweets and food such as Maria Mole (marshmallow), rapadura (unrefined sugar cane), paoca (pressed peanut powder), popcorn, candied apples, and coconut chewies. Corn comes disguised as cold pudding, or a sugared paste inside a husk “purse.” Grilled meat on skewers and cooked pine nuts are washed down with quentão, a ginger tea with pinga, or vinho quente, a warm spicy wine.

All these Festa Junina festivities are to honor three saints: St. Anthony of Padua – the patron saint of weddings ( June 13th), St. John the Baptist – the saint who is a model for a perfect life (June 24th) and St. Peter, who guards heaven’s pearly gates ( June 29th) .

Rural Festivities Make It Real
Although it has become a commercialized party, the traditional Festa Junina is still celebrated in rural communities. It started in the colonial times with the Catholic Portuguese and Spanish settlers celebrating the harvest and worshipping saints. Processions where a saint’s statue is hoisted onto shoulders and paraded through town still take place in hinterland communities.

Cool June weather calls for bonfires, which are part of the Festa Junina tradition. Hot-air balloons are often still released into the sky, taking with them notes with requests to the saints. Many have to do with marriage partners, which St. Antonio surely hears on his special day. An image of the revered saint is erected on a pole and hovers over the party-goers, blessing the festivities. The fun continues into the night as country bands sing along to accordion, guitar and tambourine.

My choice for the Festa Junina is just 80 km from Sa Paulo. Fazenda Capoava, a historic ranch dating from the 18th century, is the perfect location for the rural festivities. Its owners, who take pride in their Brazilian heritage, make the experience authentic. Celebrate Festa Junina the way it was meant to be: in the country.

Fazenda Capoava
Special Festa Junina weekend packages, or come just for the party on Sat. 7 pm – 11pm. (June 12 and 26)

How to get there: From São Paulo, take the Bandeirantes highway and exit at 59 km onto Rodovia Dom Gabriel Paulino Bueno Couto (former Marechal Rondon). At km 89,9 exit again, then continue to a dirt road and follow the signs.
Reservations (11) 4023-0903 ou reservas@fazendacapoava.com.br

Site: www.mdiggs.com

Previous articles by Marilyn:

Fazenda Capoava: Tourism – Brazilian Style
Dune Walk in Northeastern Brazil
Everything’s Coming Up Roses in Holambra, the City of Flowers
Around Brazil: Embu Das Artes – History, Headdresses and Handicrafts
Full Steam Ahead! Chilean Vineyards by Train
A Trip to Easter Island: Beyond the Obvious
Atacama Desert, Chile – I Came, I Saw, I Explored
Journey through the Fjords of Patagonia
Around Brazil: Jap Mountains, When Nature Calls
Around Brazil: Living the Amazon
Brazil: A Spa that Takes Care of Body and Soul
Around South America: Puyuhuapi – Chile’s Patagonian Secret
Around South America: Looking for Adventure in Chile’s Patagonia
Around South America: Road Trip through a Forgotten Land – Aisn, Chile
Conquering Cape Horn
Around Brazil: Hang-Gliding Over Rio
Around Brazil: Sailing in Paraty
Santiago: Gateway to the Chilean Experience
The Enchanting Easter Island
Nature and Nurturing in Chile’s Lake Region
Chilean Patagonia: Going to the Ends of the Earth
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 2
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 1
Spending the Night in the Lost City of the Incas – Machu Picchu
Brazil: Happy Moonlit Trails To You
Brazil: Paradise Found – Fernando de Noronha

Fazenda Capoava: Tourism – Brazilian Style

By Marilyn Diggs
March 29, 2010

My ideal getaway is one that combines nature, culture and comfort all in one package. Even better if it’s within a historical Brazilian setting, and better still when it’s ecology-conscience. Check, check and check for Fazenda Capoava, located only 80 km from São Paulo.

History of the Capoava Farm
Today, Fazenda Capoava is a dude ranch, but it began as a farm where food supplies and sugar cane were grown for a colonial community of trailblazers called bandeirantes. Its history lesson begins at the parking lot where guests pass a gigantic white fig tree, referred to in land deeds dating from 1881. Legend says the slaves thought it was sacred and used its wood to make bowls to hold offerings to their deities. The tree was spared when the area around it was cleared to plant sugar and, later, coffee from the late 1800s until 1929. Before it became a tourist destination, it was a dairy farm.

Almost all of the buildings on the premises are original, constructed in the 18th and 19th century. The main house, built in 1740, is the reception area, communal living room, chapel and restaurant. The senzala, or slave quarters, are guest rooms with the original pioneer architecture. The old Granary was transformed into the Cultural Center complete with a library and small museum holding historical photos, tools, folk art and objects from the farm. Guests hold conferences or play games in what was once the coffee warehouse.

Cookery is part of the cultural experience. The excellent quality of homemade cooking, using traditional Brazilian country recipes has made the restaurant a popular stopover for day visitors, as well as fazenda guests.

Ride, Hike, Stroll, Relax in Nature
The 50-acre fazenda holds two lakes, waterfalls, woods and the unusual boulder terrain peculiar to the region around It. Millennia ago, molten volcanic rock seeped through cracks in the earth’s surface, and over time, erosion rounded the edges creating a striking, curious landscape. Horseback riding paths and hiking trails wind through this terrain. Riding lessons on the premises take care of beginners and a forty-horse stable accommodates all riders’ equestrian levels.

For nature lovers, 200-year-old trees, flowering shrubs, an orchid garden and coffee plants decorate the property. An Endangered Species Nursery harbors macaws, toucans, parrots and emus. The Monkey Island forms part of the nursery and has a family of Tufts Capuchins being attended by a team of biologists. As an ongoing project, scarce Brazilian fauna is being planted in its natural habitat on the grounds. Polka dot game hens run harum-scarum, while peacocks, parakeets and other wild birds also keep eyes busy.

Rustic-chic lodgings
Comfort is top priority at Fazenda Capoava. Guestrooms come in a variety of accommodations, from the secluded chalets on the lake to the main house lodging to the two-story chalets connected in a townhouse fashion. Fireplaces make for comfy nights. Individual room hammocks, an Indian legacy, are great for relaxing after horseback riding, hiking, swimming, tennis or volleyball. Two saunas are available near the pool area.

Weekends are livelier than weekdays, with live music in the evenings, and sunset or full moon horse rides, calendar permitting. Whether you are a city slicker looking for relaxation in the country or a seasoned equestrian at home on the range, Fazenda Capoava offers top-notch rural tourism, Brazilian-style.

For reservations: (0 xx 11) 2118 – 4100 in It or reservas@fazendacapoava.com.br Site: www.mdiggs.com

Previous articles by Marilyn:

Dune Walk in Northeastern Brazil
Everything’s Coming Up Roses in Holambra, the City of Flowers
Around Brazil: Embu Das Artes – History, Headdresses and Handicrafts
Full Steam Ahead! Chilean Vineyards by Train
A Trip to Easter Island: Beyond the Obvious
Atacama Desert, Chile – I Came, I Saw, I Explored
Journey through the Fjords of Patagonia
Around Brazil: Jap Mountains, When Nature Calls
Around Brazil: Living the Amazon
Brazil: A Spa that Takes Care of Body and Soul
Around South America: Puyuhuapi – Chile’s Patagonian Secret
Around South America: Looking for Adventure in Chile’s Patagonia
Around South America: Road Trip through a Forgotten Land – Aisn, Chile
Conquering Cape Horn
Around Brazil: Hang-Gliding Over Rio
Around Brazil: Sailing in Paraty
Santiago: Gateway to the Chilean Experience
The Enchanting Easter Island
Nature and Nurturing in Chile’s Lake Region
Chilean Patagonia: Going to the Ends of the Earth
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 2
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 1
Spending the Night in the Lost City of the Incas – Machu Picchu
Brazil: Happy Moonlit Trails To You
Brazil: Paradise Found – Fernando de Noronha

Around Brazil: Everything’s Coming Up Roses in Holambra, the City of Flowers

By Marilyn Diggs
August 4, 2009

In 1654, the Portuguese expelled the Dutch from Brazil after maintaining a foothold in the Northeast for almost 25 years. In 1948, the Dutch were invited back and have been in Holambra (SP) ever since. War-torn Europe was replaced by 5,000 green hectares in São Paulo state, and its ideal climate for floriculture. Today the city’s population is around 10,000, of which 10% are direct Dutch descendents and their influence lives in the architecture, customs and gastronomy.

The City of Flowers is located only 155 km from São Paulo city. The sienna brick gateway to Holambra, with its distinct zigzagged edges, prepares you for similar Dutch architecture throughout the town (see photo below). Dont miss the new commercial complex, Hulshof Galeria, on the main street with it historical replicas of facades dating back to 1640. Some houses maintain the custom of identifying the residences by putting name plaques over the door with phrases in Dutch like, Everything I ever wanted.” The most impressive landmark remains the full-size windmill, the largest in Latin America, whose interior you can climb up for panoramic vistas.

Some tourists expect flower-laden calendar landscapes (preferably with tulips) on every corner in the City of Flowers, but this is not the case. Instead, guided rural tours open up greenhouses full of orchids, chrysanthemums and daffodils, then take you to fields of orange bird-of-paradise and roses with white net hats protecting the buds (see photo below). Thirty percent of Brazil’s flower production is in Holambra, 80% of which is exported – mostly roses to the USA. For those wanting an even closer contact with nature, there are horseback rides through the countryside and a lunch buffet cooked over a wood-burning stove afterwards. Another attraction is Lindenhof Park with its Dutch motif playground, where city children come face-to-face with goats, donkeys, rabbits, turkeys, peacocks and turtles in a miniature zoo.

In town, the Historical Museum has a photo gallery, immigration mementoes, tools, toys, clothes and utensils. Youll learn that the city has the original Dutch agricultural cooperative’s name, which is an abbreviation of Holland, America, Brazil. Outside the museum, shoppers can take a bit of Holland home with Delft china, wooden shoes, lace, woven goods, authentic pastries, imported spices, cheeses and beer found in specialty stores in town.

Some visitors to Holambra come strictly for the authentic Dutch cooking. This cuisine is a fusion from various countries, including Germany as well as Indonesia (a former Dutch colony). Think sauerkraut and sausages, but also filet mignon and sea food. Sweet and sour mixtures surprise the palate, like a sauce made of apple, onion, beer and typical spices. After savoring some imported beer, you may have the courage to try to pronounce Jachtschotel, Eilandenpot and other menu choices. Be sure to save room for Appeltaart.

Brazil is a fascinating conglomeration of races and cultures. Immigrants have been attracted like magnets and have ended up thriving and contributing to the country’s growth. Here is a chance to enjoy the Dutch influence in Brazil. Holland has never been so close.

Tips
May through October is the best time to visit Holambra. EXPOFLORA is a traditional event in September, which combines plant sales with folklore events.

The museum and some activities are open only on weekends and holidays unless scheduled through the local tourist agency. Visit: www.theosturismo.com.br and contacto@theosturismo.

Em Busca do Galope: Stables that have trail rides, including rides during full-moons. Restaurant with country cooking at lunchtime on weekends and holidays. Well-groomed horses. (19) 3802-1433 www.olddutch.com.br

Where To Stay
Pousada Europa: Quaint, middle-range priced hotel with chalets and rooms. Restaurant on premises. Swimming pool. (19) 3877-1021. www.mdiggs.com

Previous articles by Marilyn:

Around Brazil: Embu Das Artes – History, Headdresses and Handicrafts
Full Steam Ahead! Chilean Vineyards by Train
A Trip to Easter Island: Beyond the Obvious
Atacama Desert, Chile – I Came, I Saw, I Explored
Journey through the Fjords of Patagonia
Around Brazil: Jap Mountains, When Nature Calls
Around Brazil: Living the Amazon
Brazil: A Spa that Takes Care of Body and Soul
Around South America: Puyuhuapi – Chile’s Patagonian Secret
Around South America: Looking for Adventure in Chile’s Patagonia
Around South America: Road Trip through a Forgotten Land – Aisn, Chile
Conquering Cape Horn
Around Brazil: Hang-Gliding Over Rio
Around Brazil: Sailing in Paraty
Santiago: Gateway to the Chilean Experience
The Enchanting Easter Island
Nature and Nurturing in Chile’s Lake Region
Chilean Patagonia: Going to the Ends of the Earth
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 2
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 1
Spending the Night in the Lost City of the Incas – Machu Picchu
Brazil: Happy Moonlit Trails To You
Brazil: Paradise Found – Fernando de Noronha

Around Brazil: Embu Das Artes – History, Headdresses and Handicrafts

By Marilyn Diggs
June 6, 2009

In the 1960s Embu das Artes became a tourist magnet, especially on the weekends. Located only 27 km from São Paulo, the drive can vary from 30 to 60 minutes, depending upon the traffic. Today it is mostly known as a mecca for handicrafts, both Brazilian and otherwise, as well as rustic furniture and antiques. But, Embu das Artes is more than stores. On a recent trip, I arrived early enough to enjoy the day and accomplish what Id set out to do: tour the Jesuit church, peruse the Indian Museum, eat well and, of course, shop.

Early History
Long before the tourists came, explorers invaded this Indian country in the 16th century. Trailblazers (bandeirantes) in search of emeralds and gold made their way into the interior of Brazil using river systems and by cutting their way through dense forests. Some settled; the original village of Embu was founded between 1555 and 1559 with the name M’Boy, which is Tupi-Guarani for big snake.” Fernão Dias Pais and his wife Catarina Camacho owned a sizeable homestead (fazenda) in the hills. Their son wanted to become a priest, so in 1624 they donated part of their land to the Jesuit order.
Wasting no time, the Jesuits led by Father Belchior de Pontes built a church and relocated the Tupi-Guarani Indians around it to protect them from slave raids. Agriculture took precedence; manioc, wheat, vegetables and cotton thrived, permitting the order to export to Rio de Janeiro and Bahia in 1757. In the 18th century, the village had 261 Indians and boasted a Jesuit residence next to the church. In 1759, the Jesuits, who had become too rich and powerful for Portugal’s taste, were expelled from the country. The Indian population dispersed and by 1873, only 75 Indians and mestizos inhabited the place.

Two Museums Tell the Story
The Museum of Sacred Art, in the former Jesuit residence, connects to the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary (Nossa Senhora do Rosrio) constructed in the 17th century. (See photo to left) The architecture has thick adobe walls and shows the simple Baroque style from São Paulo state. The red oriental, ceiling paintings with gold pagodas reveal the well-traveled Jesuit influence. (See photo below) Two side altars come from the original chapel on the donor’s fazenda.

The museum possesses saint statues with real hair, processional images, furniture, priest robes and relics dating from the 17th to 19th centuries. Visitors see one of the first organs (early 18th C.) in São Paulo and the third in all Brazil, which looks like a box with a keyboard and was pumped by nuns in turn. It is no wonder that in 1939 -1940 this complex earned historical landmark status.

The Indian Museum opened in 2005 and is a short walk from the Jesuit church. Its founder, Walde-Mar de Andrade e Silva, is a local who has lived among the Indians in the National Park of Xingu in the Amazon region. More than just a museum, it is the hub for research and lectures on the Indian culture. Walde-Mar portrays Indian legends in his colorful naãve paintings and reproduces their body art on paper. One section in the museum shows drawings made by the Indians themselves when they were given paper and crayons for the first time. Headdresses, weapons, adornments, dolls, baskets and ceremonial attire give viewers an insight into Indian art and their way of life. This private museum, situated inside a two-story house, has just the right variety of artifacts, beautifully displayed to give the visitor a good orientation to the Brazilian Indian culture.

Art on Every Corner
Embu became an art colony in the 1920s, and today boasts of over 35 studios and galleries for painters, sculptors, metalworkers, woodcarvers and jewelers. On weekends, over 700 exhibitors fill the streets with arts and crafts, often draping their goods inside and outside charming colonial houses around the plaza area. The nearby Cultural Center holds exhibits, dance performances, plays and recitals.

Personally, I prefer going to Embu on weekdays when I can lazily stroll down historic cobblestone streets, admire colonial houses and alleys, and calmly shop. Embu’s dining choices range from top-notch restaurants to snack booths on weekends. Youll be kept busy in the historic center itself, but dont forget attractions further out, like the Sakai Memorial containing ceramics by one of the leading terra-cotta sculptors in Brazil.

Whether on weekends or weekdays, Embu das Artes offers tourists trinkets, treasures and tales of colonial days gone by. With my newly purchased wire tree and its 50 tin birds tucked safely in the seat, I headed back to São Paulo, remembering a time when traffic wasnt an issue.

Tips
Museums
Museu de Arte Sacra: Largo dos Jesutas, 67. Centro. Tel: (11)4704-2654 www.ogarimpo.com

More information: www.mdiggs.com

Previous articles by Marilyn:

Full Steam Ahead! Chilean Vineyards by Train
A Trip to Easter Island: Beyond the Obvious
Atacama Desert, Chile – I Came, I Saw, I Explored
Journey through the Fjords of Patagonia
Around Brazil: Jap Mountains, When Nature Calls
Around Brazil: Living the Amazon
Brazil: A Spa that Takes Care of Body and Soul
Around South America: Puyuhuapi – Chile’s Patagonian Secret
Around South America: Looking for Adventure in Chile’s Patagonia
Around South America: Road Trip through a Forgotten Land – Aisn, Chile
Conquering Cape Horn
Around Brazil: Hang-Gliding Over Rio
Around Brazil: Sailing in Paraty
Santiago: Gateway to the Chilean Experience
The Enchanting Easter Island
Nature and Nurturing in Chile’s Lake Region
Chilean Patagonia: Going to the Ends of the Earth
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 2
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 1
Spending the Night in the Lost City of the Incas – Machu Picchu
Brazil: Happy Moonlit Trails To You
Brazil: Paradise Found – Fernando de Noronha

Full Steam Ahead! Chilean Vineyards by Train

By Marilyn Diggs
May 19, 2009

Chilean wine has gained much notoriety and many awards over the last ten to fifteen years, and today Chile ranks fifth among the wine exporting countries. But for visitors to the Central Valley region, near Santiago, it offers something even better – a lazy ride through lush vineyards on a coal-burning locomotive from 1913. Tren del Vino (the Wine Train), a joint governmental and private sector venture, has been travelling the Cochagua Valley circuit since 1996. Its various programs combine wine-tasting, vineyard tours and cultural attractions.

I chose the all-day Santa Cruz Vineyard Program because it offers an outdoor museum visit as well as wine-tasting. We depart by bus from Galerias Hotel in the downtown Santiago at 8 am. Our guide shares the history and information about the region on the way to the San Fernando train station. We pass through the big city and travel past small homes to the rural Central Valley, nestled between the Cordillera de la Costa mountains and the Andes. Orchards with heavy-laden orange, apricot and apple trees, and fields of corn eventually give way to vineyards for as far as the eye can see. Thick leaf growth form kelly green canopies with grapes, which are harvested for young wines, while traditional vines in rows yield mature ones.

Wine-tasting Done Right
Once at the station, we board a vintage train and make ourselves comfortable in the burgundy velvet seats inside a charming wood-paneled car. Three passenger cars, one restaurant car where appetizers and wine are stored, and the coal-driven engine compose the Tren del Vino. No sooner do we sit down then a stout silver-haired singer with a guitar begins serenading the passengers as he wanders from car to car. Meanwhile, girls smartly dressed in slacks with red sashes distribute glasses and the tasting begins for ros, white and red wines. Although the degustation includes only three shallow servings, participants usually get extras of their favorite. To clean the palate and enhance the sampling, between wines we munch on cubes of cheese, fresh fruit and ham on skewers and empanadas (small fried pastries with cheese and meat inside). We learn that in 1851 French grape varieties – Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Riesling, among others – began replacing the traditional Spanish vines and today provide the basis of Chilean Wine production. Chile’s secret is its Mediterranean climate with distinct seasons, plus the high temperatures during the day and low in the night – perfect for wine production.

Two hours later, the train groans to a stop at the Santa Cruz’s canary-yellow station where we watch a short performance: musicians accompany a young man in black with a straight-brimmed hat who courts a maiden in a swirling calico dress, dancing the typical Chilean cueca. After applause, we board a bus for the Santa Cruz Vineyard and lunch. Its glass-sided restaurant showcases a panoramic view of the vineyard as we dine on grilled meat accompanied by typical regional side dishes, many with beans.

Next, we tour a huge ochre mansion that houses the winery. After a brief explanation of how Chamn brand wine is made, we descend into the cool cellars to try two different reds: a light, young wine and a premium reserve Cabernet Sauvignon cured in oak barrels. A brief orientation helps us to compare the bouquet, body and taste. Then, we stroll by the Wine Gallery, which displays interesting artifacts including Roman vases and early bottling memorabilia for our perusal.

The Santa Cruz Vineyard owner, who promotes Chilean culture, built an open air museum on a hill inside his property. A cable lift takes us to replicas of three dwellings built by indigenous tribes: Mapuche from the south of Chile, Aymar from the north, and Easter Islanders. Domestic tools, jewelry, ceremonial objects, masks and clothing help one imagine the different lifestyles. Live llamas reside next to the Aymar stone house, while a grey moai statue guards the Easter Island lodging that resembles an upside-down canoe. (see photo)

The day has been full; the wine tasting, photo snapping and vineyard touring have taken their toll. A hush falls over the chattering group as we relax in the bus with newly-purchased bottles of wine safely tucked away. The trip back passes quickly; we pull up to the Santiago hotel at 8 pm. The tour is over, but it seems like I had gone back in time to the days of leisurely train travel, when not only the destination was important, but also how to get there.

Tips
Tren Del Vino – Tel: (56 -2) 470-7403/7407 info@trendelvino.com and www.lasebastiana.cl

Where to Eat
Akarana – Happy Hour, happy times, remarkable food. Dell, the friendly Kiwi owner, uses Chilean ingredients in creative international recipes. Modern decor. Garden bar. Casual chic. Reyes Lavalle 3310, Las Condes. Tel: 231-9667. www.vipstravel.cl
Freeway Brasil – Tour operator for travel arrangements. Works directly with VIPS. Tel: 5088-0999. www.mdiggs.com

Previous articles by Marilyn:

A Trip to Easter Island: Beyond the Obvious
Atacama Desert, Chile – I Came, I Saw, I Explored
Journey through the Fjords of Patagonia
Around Brazil: Jap Mountains, When Nature Calls
Around Brazil: Living the Amazon
Brazil: A Spa that Takes Care of Body and Soul
Around South America: Puyuhuapi – Chile’s Patagonian Secret
Around South America: Looking for Adventure in Chile’s Patagonia
Around South America: Road Trip through a Forgotten Land – Aisn, Chile
Conquering Cape Horn
Around Brazil: Hang-Gliding Over Rio
Around Brazil: Sailing in Paraty
Santiago: Gateway to the Chilean Experience
The Enchanting Easter Island
Nature and Nurturing in Chile’s Lake Region
Chilean Patagonia: Going to the Ends of the Earth
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 2
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 1
Spending the Night in the Lost City of the Incas – Machu Picchu
Brazil: Happy Moonlit Trails To You
Brazil: Paradise Found – Fernando de Noronha

A Trip to Easter Island: Beyond the Obvious

By Marilyn Diggs
April 29, 2009

When guests arrive on Easter Island (Rapa Nui), guides adorn their necks with fresh flower garlands. At departure time, the host decorates them with shell necklaces. Polynesian cultures believe that this custom will insure the island visitors’ return. The spell must have worked because here I am again, two years later. My first trip was a whirlwind of digesting historical facts, visiting the signature moai (monolithic stone sculptures), and covering as much terrain as possible. I surveyed the island in a van, on horseback and on foot. This time my stay is more contemplative. I begin where I left off- quietly admiring the orange and violet sunset over the Tahai ceremonial site as a lone drummer beats cadence until the sun vanishes into the Pacific Ocean.

I chose Most tourists see the contest’s location from the Orongo ceremonial cliff. This time I travel to Motu Nui, where the birds still nest today. To get there, our boat slices through deep blue waves and bounces us in the open sea until we reach three islets that look like dots from the Orongo village above. The magnitude of the athletes’ challenge becomes real to me once I see the shore line: spray from the waves spews against the sheer rock of Motu Nui, while a giant, vertical cliff – the starting point for the race – forms the backdrop. The migratory sooty terns circle over us; their eggs safe since missionaries banned the contest in 1864. Still, the reminders of the contest are everywhere on the island – carved on rocks (500 petroglyphs in Orongo alone), painted in caves (See header photo) and even decorating the church faade in town.

An Afternoon on a Sacred Beach
Another high point is swimming at Anakena Beach, on the northern coast. The water is warm and welcoming. After a dip and photos, our guides prepare a banquet lunch under tents on ancient ceremonial grounds. According to legend, King Hotu Matau reached this shore with the initial settlers in a type of catamaran around 450 A.D. Later kings presided over public ceremonies here, during which sages recited from the ancient sacred ronga-ronga wooden tablets. The meaning of their script has been lost and remains one of Rapa Nui’s many mysteries. Anakena’s stone guardians are seven of the most enchanting moai on the island, complete with pukao (red “hats”) and detailed carvings on their backs.

Interviewing Locals Makes it Real
Turning my attention to more recent history, I seek out friendly locals to interview. From 1888 until the 1960s the Chilean government confined the Rapanui to one spot: Hanga Roa. The Chilean Navy held them as virtual prisoners and most lived a scant existence. The quality of life only improved after the islanders received Chilean citizenship in 1966. I hear stories about the hard years from the older residents. The oldest islander, Benedicto Riroroko, who is 90, tells me about his grandfather, the last king. (See photo) Simeón Riro Kainga was assassinated (poisoned) in Valparaiso in 1899 when he went to the mainland to complain about the cruel treatment of his people. In 2006, President Michelli Bachelet returned his ashes to the island and gave Benedicto a Chilean flag. He recalls this emotional event in the Rapanui language which his grandson translates for me. Today proud islanders talk freely about their culture and heritage. During summer festivals they paint their bodies and don straw and feather costumes to re-enact competitions and dances. Some talk about independence.

This time I leave Easter Island with a new, more mature appreciation for its open-air museum, mixture of blood lines, and unique culture. As I gaze at my shell necklace hanging in my study, I can only hope that its magic will work again, and allow me to return once more to the ever-mystifying Easter Island.

Resources
Freeway Brasil: Information and reservations office: 5088-0999;
www.explora.com

Marilyn Diggs is an American living in Brazil for over twenty years. She is a freelance writer, artist, lecturer and author of nine books – two about Brazilian art history. As an art reporter and travel writer she has two monthly columns in Sunday News, Brazil’s English language newspaper that circulates in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia. She has written for the Miami Herald and Museum International , a UNESCO publication. Marilyn has a degree in Latin American Studies and is often contracted by intercultural training services to give talks on expat challenges. Atacama Desert, Chile – I Came, I Saw, I Explored
Journey through the Fjords of Patagonia
Around Brazil: Jap Mountains, When Nature Calls
Around Brazil: Living the Amazon
Brazil: A Spa that Takes Care of Body and Soul
Around South America: Puyuhuapi – Chile’s Patagonian Secret
Around South America: Looking for Adventure in Chile’s Patagonia
Around South America: Road Trip through a Forgotten Land – Aisn, Chile
Conquering Cape Horn
Around Brazil: Hang-Gliding Over Rio
Around Brazil: Sailing in Paraty
Santiago: Gateway to the Chilean Experience
The Enchanting Easter Island
Nature and Nurturing in Chile’s Lake Region
Chilean Patagonia: Going to the Ends of the Earth
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 2
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 1
Spending the Night in the Lost City of the Incas – Machu Picchu
Brazil: Happy Moonlit Trails To You
Brazil: Paradise Found – Fernando de Noronha

Atacama Desert, Chile – I Came, I Saw, I Explored

By Marilyn Diggs
April 16, 2009

The Atacama Desert in Chile is so desolate it is often described as moon-like. In fact, NASA even conducts astronaut training there. This 160 by 1000 km sliver sandwiched between the Andes Mountains and the Chilean Coastal range along the Pacific coast is the most arid place on earth. Some weather stations in Atacama have never received rain. Even snakes dont like it. So what is all the fuss?

Words like astounding, staggering and overwhelming come to mind when inside the Atacama Desert. Its remoteness triggers an outward, as well as inward, change in the visitor who cant help but feel as small as the grains of sand upon which he stands and yet, a part of the wholeness of creation. Here the continental shelf shifted and pushed up the crust of the earth like an accordion. Volcanic action and erosion created the sand, salt basins and igneous rocks that give the area unexpected colors and textures. If you listen closely, the landscapes even speak as salt crystals pop and ping while escaping from their dried mud shells, and white-capped volcanoes and surrealist rock formations beg to be photographed or painted.

From Conquistadors to Calvin Klein
Most tourists head for San Pedro de Atacama, a tiny oasis village with around 5,000 inhabitants, right in the heart of northern Chile. Located 2,400 meters-above-sea-level, it makes for a perfect base to get acclimatized before climbing twice that to attractions like the steaming geysers, active volcanoes and high plateau salt flats surrounding it, but don’t forget the town itself.

Isabel Allende’s book, Ins of my Soul, tells Chile’s intriguing history through a 16th century Spanish seamstress-turned-conquistador who crosses the Atacama Desert. She joined soldiers in a struggle against inhospitable climate and hostile Indians to establish San Pedro de Atacama in 1540 as an outpost in northern Chile. Several years ago, a monument to the Indian leaders beheaded by the Spanish was erected overlooking Death Valley (Valle de los Muertos – see header photo – taken by Marilyn Diggs).

The Gustavo le Paige Museum in town is a must-see for its pre-Columbian Indian collection, and in San Pedro’s Plaza de Armas, a white mission church originally built by the Spanish in 1577, still stands with its thick adobe walls and ceiling made from cardón (cactus wood) tied together with leather straps. Spaniards seeking fortune and fame eventually gave way to backpackers searching for remote and rugged destinations, then to affluent travelers wanting adventure with a luxury retreat at day’s end.

The altitude and dryness used to attract only die-hard adventurers. Now celebrities like Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz grace San Pedro’s dusty streets. In fact, after shooting the last desert scene of the 007 movie Quantum of Solace, Daniel Craig vacationed in the area. These stars are faint however, compared to the celestial show witnessed nightly in the Atacama sky with zero moisture and no pollution. It is no wonder that the ALMA project chose this area, only 40 km east of San Pedro, to host 60 of the most powerful radio telescopes on earth for studying the universe.

Comfort in the wild
Over the last ten years several top-line hotels have sprung up, including the www.freeway.tur.br
Explora: www.mdiggs.com

Previous articles by Marilyn:

Journey through the Fjords of Patagonia
Around Brazil: Jap Mountains, When Nature Calls
Around Brazil: Living the Amazon
Brazil: A Spa that Takes Care of Body and Soul
Around South America: Puyuhuapi – Chile’s Patagonian Secret
Around South America: Looking for Adventure in Chile’s Patagonia
Around South America: Road Trip through a Forgotten Land – Aisn, Chile
Conquering Cape Horn
Around Brazil: Hang-Gliding Over Rio
Around Brazil: Sailing in Paraty
Santiago: Gateway to the Chilean Experience
The Enchanting Easter Island
Nature and Nurturing in Chile’s Lake Region
Chilean Patagonia: Going to the Ends of the Earth
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 2
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 1
Spending the Night in the Lost City of the Incas – Machu Picchu
Brazil: Happy Moonlit Trails To You
Brazil: Paradise Found – Fernando de Noronha