Around Brazil: Chapada da Diamantina/Lenois

By Ricky Skelton
There are two amazing places in Brazil called Lenois. The first one is the old diamond mining town in the Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina, and what an oasis it is after Salvador! The chapadas are flat-topped mountains, similar in shape to Table Mountain in Cape Town or Monument Valley in the USA. But the chapadas are covered in trees, all lush and dark. They hide thousands of waterfalls of all shapes and sizes, taking the purest tea-coloured water to the bottom of the valleys.

There are some places where you can find yourself alone at an unnamed waterfall. I climbed up one with layers reaching further up than I could manage, all the time thinking ‘Nature doesn’t get any better than this and I’ve got it all to myself!’. That never happens back home. There are also plenty of incredibly photogenic caves in the area, with water as blue or as transparent (depending if the sun can hit it) as anything you can find. Those photos on postcards that you see in Lenois haven’t been doctored. They really do look like that.

The largest of the waterfalls is Cachoeira de Fumaa (Waterfall of Smoke) which, at 400m, is the highest in Brazil. It is so high that the water doesn’t reach the ground. I found it hard to work that one out too, but it is true. The small river of water separates into a fine spray somewhere near the bottom of a stunning vertical horseshoe cliff. The spray gets blown by the wind, making it possibly the only waterfall in the world where the water doesn’t land below the spot that it falls from. It’s a two day trek to get to the bottom, which involves rock-hopping up dried riverbeds, walking on the roots of monkey-forests, and sleeping on the rocky floor of ‘caves’ (overhanging rocks) next to rivers. It is quite difficult to have a shower there, as the water that comes from the tops is somehow so cold that it is difficult to get in. But once you do, that little waterfall dropping on your head is amazingly refreshing (for at least five seconds) and helps to wake you up properly after not-sleeping on rocks.

The top of Fumaa is as stunning as anywhere. The green valleys wind into the distance below, 420m down from the observation platform (a flat rock a little above the river) to the place where the water doesn’t land. It is a perfect photo opp if you can look relaxed on the edge of a quarter mile sheer drop. I took one look at the bottom (with somebody holding my ankles) and I got so dizzy that I had to become official photographer. I spent longer in the waterfall shower that morning than on the edge.

The Vale do Pati on the other side of the chapada is just as beautiful, and you can kick back for a few days in Capão if you want, or trek more days up the valley. But there was a caipirinha with my name on it waiting on a table on the cobblestones, under the stars in Lenois.

You can visit Ricky&rsquot;s blog at http://redmist-redmist.blogspot.com/

Previous articles by Ricky:

Brazil vs. Argentina: Statues of Christ
Around Brazil: Salvador
Brazil vs. Argentina: The Buses
Around Brazil: Morro de São Paulo (& Itabuna)
Understanding Brazil: The Workmen
Around Brazil: Praa Pateo do Colegio
Around Brazil: Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Rio de Janeiro to Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Cristo Redentor
Understanding Brazil: The Sellers
Around Brazil: Ilha de Gigoia
Brazil Journeys: São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro
Understanding Brazil: Dogs Part 2
Brazil: A Lie-In in Downtown São Paulo?
The Best Job in Brazil: Ankle Specialist?
Understanding Brazil: Dogs
Brazilian Places: Ilha do Santa Catarina (Floripa)
Classic Brazilian Journeys: South to Florianopolis
Understanding Brazil – The Shower
Brazil: Boats on the Amazon
Brazil: Understanding Novelas
Brazil: Bus fires in São Paulo – always a bad thing?

Around Brazil: Natal Part 2

By Hal
Here is part 2 of Hal’s article about Natal. To read part 1 click the relevant link at the end of the article.

Natal is a comfortable city; large enough to have most everything a person could want, small enough to navigate easily, with restaurants, hotels and particularly beaches, very handy. By taxi the airport is about 15 minutes and a number of beaches from five to fifteen minutes from downtown. North and south of Natal the coast is lined with beaches, one nicer than the next, within an hour’s drive.

There are a wide variety of hotels ranging from pousadas (small hotels) to very fancy resort” hotels on a section of the oceanfront (but watch the currents here, they can be tricky). Most beaches are very safe, usually well protected by reefs.

Restaurants vary from very upscale serving Brazilian or regional specialties and other cuisines include Swiss, Italian, Spanish and Japanese; in the middle range are less formal restaurants, some self-service like Mangai, my favorite, which gives you a wide selection of potiguar specialties and oozes atmosphere. For food at a good price there are hundreds of outdoor luncheonettes/bars with specialty and regular foods, plus pizza and hamburger joints – there are even two MacDonalds for the kids.

For the needy there are large shopping malls and a few boutique lined avenues where you and your money are always welcome. The selections are large, the prices competitive. Then there is Alecrin which is a thrift district; go with a brasileiro and watch you wallet.

The city has about 800,000 people. The majority earn a low-minimum wage, or less; a middle income group that is growing, slowly, and a small number of rich who, as is their wont, manage. While this overall pattern is similar to those in the US, Europe and elsewhere, there are proportionately more poor here and the middle income group is smaller. Whatever their background, the vast majority of Potiguares are friendly and welcoming.

Multi-storied condos dominate the Natal skyline, almost as if some giant scattered condo seeds on empty lots and they ripened and grew in the sun. Single family casas tolerate this intrusion. Condos Natal – Ocean in the background,

Large numbers of vacationers from Europe visit Natal. Many buy vacation condos; some retire here. Brazilian tourists come up from Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, it is said to avoid crowds of foreign tourists. There are fewer Americans, largely because they tend to dead-end in Mexico or the Caribbean Islands. The latter are a lot closer to home, easier and cheaper to reach, and the resorts there cater to the American preference for Americans.

For a fact sheet in English go to: www.natal-brazil.com and then click on the “read more about Natal link.” To explore further: Google “Natal Brazil” and poke around in the first few sites given.

Previous articles by Hal:

Around Brazil: Natal Part 1
Brazil: A View from Rio Grande do Norte

Around Brazil: Salvador

By Ricky Skelton
I was looking forward to my trip to Salvador. I couldn’t wait to get to the heart of Brazil’s African culture, and sample food and music that were different to the more European-influenced areas of the south. I enjoyed the journey there, bouncing along at the front of the boat as the city slowly appeared on the horizon. Most other people didn’t though. Todo mundo were seasick.

Maybe it was because of the sky and the sea being the same colour that rough day, but at first sight, Salvador appeared to me to be totally grey. This wasn’t what I’d expected! From everything I’d read about the city, I thought I was going to find bright swirls of African colour on every corner! The buildings of the lower part of town seemed run-down and empty, even if there were shops on the ground floor. The ride in the lift to the high part and the old slave market gave me a good view of the bay and the islands in it. I think that was the last time I felt relaxed in Salvador.

Out of the doors, it was time to run the gauntlet of hawkers and beggars that is Pelourinho. The people you encounter most are those that sell fitas – the bands of different colours that are tied around your wrist with three knots. The three wishes that you make while tying the knots are supposed to come true before the band falls off. Plainly this is nonsense, in the same way that ‘lucky’ heather doesn’t appear to be lucky at all for the lady who has huge bunches of it but is still selling twigs on the streets of London. That is, of course, unless the fita sellers all wished to be selling bands on the streets of Salvador. I should have proved the truth of it by wishing for ridiculous things: to grow an extra leg; to become President of Haiti; and to write a good article. My band didn’t have enough time to work anyway. Somebody had tied one onto my wrist as I walked through the square. I snapped it off angrily and checked for my wallet. I didn’t have a problem with the band, it was the sales tactics – way too aggressive. And it happens all the time, eating food outside, drinking, talking, looking at maps, people always arrive at your side asking for something and seeming like they won’t take no for an answer. I spent a whole night without even talking to my friends. ‘Não, obrigado’ was all I said. Every two minutes. Minimum. Even to the Capoeira boys.

I had to walk away from the scenes every time. I don’t mind watching people somersault down the middle of the road to vault over a friend holding a stick full of sharp facãos pointing at the sky. I’ll pay to watch that, every day if possible, especially as it involves that element of danger (for somebody else). But I get a bit bored after a few minutes of watching people rolling around the floor. I just want them to hit each other!

I’d like to say what my favourite thing was about Salvador, but nothing springs to mind, sadly. The whole city was dirty and rundown, including the beaches I saw. The only clean parts were the sterile Shoppings, which needn’t be a big problem. But I’d been so excited about going to ‘the city where the music never stops’. It might not stop, but somebody had definitely turned it down when I was there. The only live music I heard was from people playing guitars in one of the squares, and they looked like gringoes. What happened to the crazy rhythms of those African drums? I think I should wait for Carnival next time.

You can visit Ricky’s blog at http://redmist-redmist.blogspot.com/

Previous articles by Ricky:

Brazil vs. Argentina: The Buses
Around Brazil: Morro de São Paulo (& Itabuna)
Understanding Brazil: The Workmen
Around Brazil: Praa Pateo do Colegio
Around Brazil: Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Rio de Janeiro to Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Cristo Redentor
Understanding Brazil: The Sellers
Around Brazil: Ilha de Gigoia
Brazil Journeys: São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro
Understanding Brazil: Dogs Part 2
Brazil: A Lie-In in Downtown São Paulo?
The Best Job in Brazil: Ankle Specialist?
Understanding Brazil: Dogs
Brazilian Places: Ilha do Santa Catarina (Floripa)
Classic Brazilian Journeys: South to Florianopolis
Understanding Brazil – The Shower
Brazil: Boats on the Amazon
Brazil: Understanding Novelas
Brazil: Bus fires in São Paulo – always a bad thing?

Around Brazil: Natal Part 1

By Hal
Natal (Christmas in Portuguese), the capital and largest city of the state of Rio Grande no Norte (RN), was one of the first European settlements in the northeast. The village which grew to be our city, was established 25th December 1599. It is on the South Atlantic at the mouth of the Potengi river. On your map you will find it on the big hump on the northeast coast of Brazil closest to Africa. We are about 5 below the equator.

French pirates occupied” Natal in the 1590&rsquot;s. They “traded” with the native Potiguares – a name which is still used to characterize folks born in Rio Grande do Norte: in the indian Tupi language it means “people who eat shrimp”.

The French were driven out by the Portuguese in 1597 leaving no traces. The still standing Forte dos Reis Magos (named after the biblical Three Wise Kings, and pictured above) was built in 1598-99 to guard the harbor and mouth of the river. I think it one of the most interesting historic sites in Natal.

Later the Dutch occupied the village and the fort for a few decades before they too were shoved out by the Portuguese. Many of the Dutch settlers fled inland and are said to be the reason some of today’s inland Potiguares have green eyes, fair skin and wonderful smiles.

The major economic activity in RN in the first three hundred years was cattle raising in large “fazendas” (ranches) in the interior desert country. From this &rsquot;crop&rsquot; came &rsquot;jerked beef&rsquot; called &rsquot;carne de sol&rsquot;. I think the cattle walk hundreds of kilometers to the slaughter house which gives the meat its tough, jerky consistency -good though!

In the 18th century salt became a major crop; large ponds were flooded with ocean water at high tide, then allowed to dry out in the hot sun; the residual salt was &rsquot;harvested&rsquot;.

Petroleum became a major “crop” in the 19th century. RN has Brazil&rsquot;s largest inland reserves of ‘oleo’. Today, the coastal waters of the South Atlantic off Brasil are the major source of petroleum. Using a combination of petroleum, alcohol and stiff prices, Brazil has become self-sufficient in automobile fuel. Other important crops in RN are fishing and shrimp farming.

During World War II the US built an airport here which was manned by a few thousand American soldiers. It was used as a ferrying station: Florida <> Natal <> Africa <> Europe. There are pictures of President Roosevelt in Natal on his way to and from a World War II conference in Europe. Today it is Natal&rsquot;s modern Augusto Severo Aeroporto.

The northeast coast welcomes some 2 million tourists to its shores each year. The delightful, year round climate and 250 kilometers of adjacent ocean beaches are the major attraction. Wind surfing is consistently good and it is the world center of dune buggy rides or, if you prefer, you can lurch around on a camel. Offshore, the island of Fernando de Noronha is one of the world’s finest locations for underwater diving.

Sorry, but the weather is near perfect. Ten minute rain showers come and go now and again but a hard day’s rain rarely falls; maybe three or four isolated days in the Winter (July, August, September). Reported research claims that the air quality here is the best of any major city in the world. My emphysema-blessed lungs think it is fun to breath.

The temperature ranges between 75F/24C and 95F/35C. Onshore breezes from the South Atlantic sharply reduce the humidity; no hurricanes. Inland the northeast of Brasil is desert but here on the litoral there are fine beaches in a people friendly city; not perfect, but aside from Soggytrees, NY what city is?

Part 2 next week…

Previous articles by Hal:

Brazil: A View from Rio Grande do Norte

Around Brazil: I Left My Heart in Arraial D&rsquot;Ajuda

By Sol Biderman
Arraial DAjuda may play second fiddle to Trancoso in terms of jet-set celebrities, but when it comes to cuisine and scenery, there’s nothing like it.

One of the best places to eat is at the Arraial d’Ajuda Eco Resort located on one of the best sites in the country, a narrow strip of land between the mouth of the Porto Seguro harbor on Rio Buranhem and the ocean. As a result all the rooms have a splendid view of the palm fringed ocean or the palm fringed mouth of the river. The Eco resort is surrounded by remarkable scenery, in my opinion one of the most relaxing venues in the country. Located 10 minutes from the international airport of Porto Seguro, between the Rio Buranhem and the Atlantic Ocean, one arrives by a small ferry boat. The region provides easy access to Trancoso, Caraiva, Praia do Espelho, golf courses, ecological sites and adventure trips.

The Eco Resort restaurant at the tip of what appears to be a tiny peninsula of land has views wherever you sit – either of the lights of Porto Seguro reflected in the mouth of the river or the palms swaying in the ocean breeze. Carne seca, which is not dry, is a northeastern delicacy, while the filet mignon is enriched with several delicious sauces.

In terms of cuisine, the restaurant’s linguado either grilled or baked with a delcious shrimp sauce, is unbeatable. On the floor in colored tiles is the lagartixa, the lizard symbol of the remarkable resort complex.

The buffet restaurant facing the pool offers mouth watering linguado “a la belle meneure,” chopped filet with mushroom sauce, tasty pastas and diet-busting desserts like cupuau mousse (like chocolate), cheesecake, coconut cake, and chocolate mousse with fruit.

After one has digested the sumptuous fare and has swum in the 50 meter long sinuous swimming pool facing the ocean, or has bathed in the ocean 5 meters away, the visitor might want to summon up enough energy to take an excursion. Among the more exotic trips is a boat ride to Itaquena Beach, an isolated spot in the Arraial d’Ajuda district, with soft sandy beaches clear water and a protected mangue, or wetlands area. One can arrange a horseback ride through the beach and Rio dos Frades with the Arraial d’Ajuda eco resort. There are other excursions by boat along the Coast of Discovery, Praia de Pitinga, Trancoso, Rio Buranhem and deep sea fishing, as well as Land Rover trips to Praia do Espelho and Caraiva. Then of course there is the Eco Resort with enormous swimming pools and high toboggans for the brave.

Among the many restaurants in Arraial d’Ajuda are Corujão, a bar and restaurant on the beach, Aipi, in the Beco do Jegue, and Dom Fabrizio, restaurant and pizzaria, and for late night “agito” there is always Girassol.

Previous articles by Sol Biderman:

Brazil: Dolly Moreno – A Great Sculptress of the Americas
Brazil: Stephen Henriques in Manaus
Brazil: The Stunning Abstracts of Renata Rosa
Brazil: Doris Lessing Still Surprises at 86
Brazil Art Review: Raquel Cararo
Brazil Art Review: Guilherme de Faria
Brazilian Art: Rimbaud and the music of colors in Stephen Henriques
Brazilian Art: A tale of 3 Angelicas
Aravena and Aravenism in Chile and Brazil
São Paulo Hotel Guide: L&rsquot;Hotel

Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 2

By Marilyn Diggs
Here is part 2 of Marilyn&rsquot;s article about the Pantanal and Bonito. To read part 1 click the relevant link at the end of the article.

Bonito offers adventure, nature and leisure
After a day of hiking, climbing to the top of the highest waterfall in the state (465 ft. or 156 m.) and a savory buffet lunch with typical hearty dishes, we pulled into Bonito, a city of 15,000 that receives tourists from all over the world. Happy with my choice of Zagaia Eco-Resort Hotel, I relaxed in the sauna, jacuzzi and heated pool before relishing a mouth-watering dinner buffet with regional and international cuisine. The hotel’s open-air architecture gives a light, unobtrusive-to-nature presence. Dining is in glass-sided pavilions with a view of the immaculate grounds – home of toucans, Angolan chickens and other birds whose fancy plumage look like they are playing dress-up.

Ambiental Expedies, my touring agency, was efficient, informative and punctual. I was sure that my 3 days would be as well spent as in the Pantanal. The affirmation came with a feast for the eyes: a visit to the Blue Lake Grotto (pictured left, by Ricardo Rodrigues) whose interior is gothic cathedrals formed by stalagmites and stalactites that ends in an aqua blue pool. Later, I hiked around a 328ft/100m deep sinkhole, alive with its own emerald vegetation, where red and green Macaw parrots returning at day’s end, swoop and glide in the open abyss.

As for adventure, the rubber boat ride over waterfalls on the Mimosa River interrupts an otherwise peaceful cruise with roller-coaster excitement. I was glad to know that the enormous anaconda sunning itself in the overhead tree prefers smaller prey to tourists. My favorite outing was the snorkeling and flotation down the Prata River. Dressed in neoprene suits, the current takes the swimmer along its shallow trail of clear turquoise water with curious, shiny tropical fish. A small caiman that shared the lagoon ignored us completely; there was definitely enough fish for all. I was relieved he didn’t know I ate alligator steak for lunch.

I didn’t have the energy to enjoy the tennis court, beach volley courts, soccer field, bike lane, jogging lanes, ecological trails, sport fishing, horseback riding nor the quad biking at the Zagaia Eco-Resort Hotel (pictured right, by Ricardo Rodrigues), during this stay. But then again, one has to save something for a return visit.

Bonito and the Pantanal make a perfect travel combination with their ecological tourism activities and exuberant local landscape. I left the state of Mato Grosso do Sul with a new appreciation for Brazil’s biodiversity and natural wealth. The scenery, sounds, smells, taste and emotions of the Pantanal and Bonito regions all come together in a not-soon-to-be-forgotten sensorial experience that is more than impressive; it is mind-boggling.

Tips for the Pantanal and Bonito

Basic Information
Ambiental Expedies: Information and reservations office: (11) 3819-4600; www.ambiental.tur.br and email: ambiental@ambiental.tur.br

Where to stay
Caiman Ecological Refuge (Refgio Ecológico Caiman): Information and reservations office: Rua Campos Bicudo 98, cj. 112, Itaim, São Paulo; (11) 3079-6622, fax (11) 3079-6037; www.caiman.com.br and caiman@caiman.com.br

Zagaia Eco-Resort Hotel: Rodovia Bonito/ Trs Morros, Km. 0; Toll Free: 0800-99-4400, (67) 255-1280, fax (67) 255-1710; www.zagaia.com.br and reservas@zagaia.com.br

Where to eat
Churrascaria Pantanal: Rua Cel. Pilad Rebu 1808, Centro, Bonito; (67) 255-2763, (67) 9953-6373. Alligator steaks, regional fish, steak house, salad, garnishes and dessert buffets. An excellent option for lunch.

Churrascaria e Costelaria do Gacho Gastão: Rua 14 de Julho 775, Centro, Campo Grande; (67) 384-4326, fax (67) 382-2942. You have to fly into Campo Grande, so either on your way to or back home, stop at this steakhouse for their specialty, ribs. Picanha (rump roast) is also divine. Buffet of salads, garnishes and desserts. A favorite of tourists and locals, alike.

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&rsquot;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:

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: Morro de São Paulo (& Itabuna)

By Ricky Skelton
Itabuna is one of those towns that everybody who travels finds themselves staying in occasionally. When the journey doesn’t go as planned due to missed connections, you can’t do as many miles as you’d hoped and end up arriving late in a small town that you’ve never heard of before, and neither has your guide book. You want to leave first thing in the morning, so find the ‘hotel’ nearest to the station. These hotels are the same the world over – Brazil, Guatemala, India, Sweden even: quiet, empty, probably looked dilapidated when they were opened, and a sad-looking man with a moustache wearing an off-white vest serves you if he can tear himself away from his black and white portable TV for long enough. The walls are grey and have bullet holes, the bathroom is a mosquito graveyard, the cockroaches roam free, and you have second thoughts about lying on that mattress. Still, it’s only for five hours.

Some places you like immediately, solely because of your journey there. The boat ride to Morro de São Paulo, leaving the mainland and a huge black cloud behind us and driving through the reflection of the morning sun, was just one of these journeys. The channels to Ilha de Tinhar are tree-lined until you see the coloured cliffs of the island. We were handed flyers for a full moon party on the beach of the first village. Sometimes it comes together for you without any effort.

The boat lands at the old fort gateway, and island taxis can take your bags up the hill to the village. There are only sandy roads on the island and very few vehicles, so the locals paint their wheelbarrows black and yellow and have ‘Taxi’ on the side. They may even take you too if you pay enough.

Morro de São Paulo has a certain barefoot charm about it. You can stay in a pousada right on one of the beaches, which are helpfully numbered so you don’t get lost at night. The beaches increase in size, and decrease in population density as you count upwards. Great for walking miles alone along the edge of the sea. You can surf on One or sit and watch fish without even a snorkel on Two. The water can be like glass. Tours take you around the islands to deserted beaches, and to rock pools where you can see fish, crabs, turtles, and a Brazilian tourist breaking off coral for souvenirs. I wish I’d drowned him. It would have been easier than trying to say ‘It never grows back you know!’ in indignant Portuguese.

The strangest sight of the island though was on our first day there as the sun went down. We saw a huge red thing climbing out of the sea.

What&rsquot;s that?”
“Dunno. Oh! It’s the moon!”

She rose slowly, leaving a v-shaped reflection pointing to my toes, becoming less red and shining more brightly as she went. I never knew a lady of that age, that big, and with huge craters all over her face could look so beautiful. It put us in a perfect mood for the boat ride to Gamboa for the party in her honour.

But it wasn’t how a full moon party should be. We had to pay to listen to the DJ with the worst name in the world – DJ Pornstar Deluxe – without even a view of the sea. Ive never seen anything so ridiculous as a beach party with a fence all around it.

We plagued him all night to change the music, but the only change was in the colour of Barnoldinho’s shoulder. A huge wooden totem pole fell on top of him as he was complaining to Pornstar. Some sort of devine retribution probably.

You can visit Ricky&rsquot;s blog at http://redmist-redmist.blogspot.com/

Previous articles by Ricky:

Understanding Brazil: The Workmen
Around Brazil: Praa Pateo do Colegio
Around Brazil: Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Rio de Janeiro to Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Cristo Redentor
Understanding Brazil: The Sellers
Around Brazil: Ilha de Gigoia
Brazil Journeys: São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro
Understanding Brazil: Dogs Part 2
Brazil: A Lie-In in Downtown São Paulo?
The Best Job in Brazil: Ankle Specialist?
Understanding Brazil: Dogs
Brazilian Places: Ilha do Santa Catarina (Floripa)
Classic Brazilian Journeys: South to Florianopolis
Understanding Brazil – The Shower
Brazil: Boats on the Amazon
Brazil: Understanding Novelas
Brazil: Bus fires in São Paulo – always a bad thing?

Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 1

By Marilyn Diggs
A Visit to the Heart of South America – the Pantanal
For the twenty years that I have lived in Brazil, I’ve always heard the word impressive” used to describe the Pantanal, the Brazilian wetlands. Recently I decided to see it for myself, only to discover that “impressive” doesn’t come close.

The Pantanal-bound traveler’s first decision must be whether to go in the dry season when the mammals are prevalent, or rainy when the area floods and the flora and bird life flourish. I opted for the former. Bonito, a favorite spot for ecotourism since the 1990s, was another spot I’d always wanted to visit. So, on a clear August day I boarded the comfortable Gol plane in São Paulo and headed west to Campo Grande, in Mato Grosso do Sul state.

After a short 90-minute flight, it takes another four hours by van or car to reach the Brazilian side of the Pantanal. The enormous depression covered in savanna and scattered groves of tall trees, extends over 77,000 sq. mi (200,000 sq. km.) at the extreme north of the Plata River basin in Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. It is the home of 650 different species of birds, 40 species of mammals, and 15 species of reptiles.

My choice of accommodations was the Caiman Ecological Refuge near Miranda (pictured below), a 131,000-acre working ranch and an 18,850-acre nature reserve – the perfect location to learn about the wildlife, topography and regional cooking.

Caiman Ecological Refuge
As we rolled along the rough dirt road up to the ranch’s headquarters past emas (type of ostrich), white Brahman cattle and a pond surrounded by caimans (regional alligators), I knew I’d come to the right place for ecological tourism. Passing though the rustic stone faade of the main lodge, it seemed like I’d walked onto a split-level movie set divided into two lounging areas – a patio with sofas is under a white canopy in front of an over-sized stone fireplace and on the next level, rooms surround a swimming pool where hammocks under a thatched-roof cabana invite you to relax between programmed activities. There are four lodges on the grounds, each cozy, comfortable and surrounded by a unique environment. It is no wonder that Caiman lodging is listed in the prestigious, Roteiros de Charme (Guidebook to Charming Locations in Brazil).

I wondered just how much I would see during my 3-day stay in the area. The answer was a lot since the day outings begin early, at 7 a.m., and continue into the night. The experienced staff conducts safaris in open-ended trucks and horseback rides into the grasslands to spy on wild boars, deer, birds, jaguars and other critters. I lost count of the storks, ibis, cranes, parrots and herons. By far the most impressive flight is of the tuiuiui (Jabiru stork) whose wingspan can reach almost three meters. I had especially come to see this black-headed, red-necked, white-bodied bird, symbol of the Pantanal, but what really won my heart was the silky, meter-high anteater whose young latches onto the mother’s back for quick get-aways.

Blue Macaw parrots are abundant due to a preservation project on the premises, and they fly overhead competing with toucans and Blue Silk butterflies for visitors’ attention.

One can also explore the Aquidauana River in a chalana (local watercraft). At a certain point, our group climbed into canoes and rowed down narrow rivers that reminded me of Disneyland’s Adventure Land jungle ride, minus elephants and gorillas. Think alligators and monkeys. Caimans lounge, open-mouthed, warming themselves. The guide reminded us to keep fingers inside the boat, so as not to become piranha bait. I wondered if he was kidding, but decided not to test it. The Pantanal is famous for its magnificent red sunsets, better yet when seen as a climax to a canoe ride though water lilies and undergrowth where colorful birds share fish with snow-white egrets. Night walks and night safaris, spurred by hopes of seeing spotted jaguars, are enlivened by nocturnal anteaters, wild foxes and fireflies camouflaged by sparkling stars on clear nights.

Too soon my stay was over and I was back in the air-conditioned van rumbling down the road, stopping occasionally for straw-hatted gauchos herding white cattle, lumbering anteaters or scurrying cabybara(dog-sized rodent relatives). To break up the drive to Bonito, the next night’s destination, we stopped at Boca da Ona (Jaguar’s Mouth) Ranch with over 8 waterfalls along hiking trails. Smiling, I shook my head in disbelief as nature guides told about trees whose fruit monkeys (and locals) use for eye drops, and a tree bark whose pulp makes tasty desserts and can be stuck back onto the trunk with clay to regenerate.

Part 2 next week…

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&rsquot;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:

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: Praa Pateo do Colegio

By Ricky Skelton
When I did a presentation course at college, a fellow student bravely stood up in front of his peers and announced in a camp voice &rsquot;Today, I&rsquot;m going to tell you about campanology – which, for those of you who don&rsquot;t know, is the study of bell-ringing.&rsquot; We sniggered greatly. I&rsquot;d never met someone who was interested in such a thing before.

But I was young then. Opinions change with age. So maybe it is a sign of my age (I won&rsquot;t say maturity) that one of my favourite things in Sampa is O Sino da Paz – The Peace Bell – in Praa Pateo do Colegio. I came across it by accident on a Saturday afternoon, never having heard of it before. The noise it makes is as dolorous as Big Ben or any other large bell when sounding alone, and it&rsquot;s not particularly pretty to look at – a 2ft high bronze bell-shaped thing hanging from a stone frame. Nor is it ugly though. The only good thing about it really is that it just hangs there alone in the praa, next to the entrance to the Museu de Anchieta. Because it is situated as such, anyone can ring it! For free!

It has a small demolition ball dangling from a chain inside, and a rope hanging down to head height, making it look like some gladiator&rsquot;s weapon. It is just begging to be struck, but nobody seemed at all interested in it. I was. Any chance to make a different noise and my eyes will light up. For once, there was nobody around to stop me. I read the blurb about why it was placed there, pushed the rope away, and then swung it as fast as I could towards myself.

CLANG!

Oh wow. What a miserably beautiful sound (or beautifully miserable sound even) resonated around the praa. The skatekids stopped and looked over. The students in the museum queue turned as one. They all stared at me, waiting, wondering in silence. Perhaps it just seemed silent because my ears were ringing for far longer than the bell, having been so close. My brain was too. By the time it stopped, everybody was getting on with their lives again, but for a few seconds they had been all mine!

After all these years, I have some appreciation of the art of ringing a bell, but not to make a tune, just one big noise, like a gong. Once is more dramatic. The world peace I had wished for (like any good contestant in a beauty pageant) doesn&rsquot;t appear to have come true yet. The world may not become a better place for me or you ringing that bell, but I guarantee that you&rsquot;ll walk away from it feeling better.

You can visit Ricky&rsquot;s blog at http://redmist-redmist.blogspot.com/

Previous articles by Ricky:

Around Brazil: Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Rio de Janeiro to Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Cristo Redentor
Understanding Brazil: The Sellers
Around Brazil: Ilha de Gigoia
Brazil Journeys: São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro
Understanding Brazil: Dogs Part 2
Brazil: A Lie-In in Downtown São Paulo?
The Best Job in Brazil: Ankle Specialist?
Understanding Brazil: Dogs
Brazilian Places: Ilha do Santa Catarina (Floripa)
Classic Brazilian Journeys: South to Florianopolis
Understanding Brazil – The Shower
Brazil: Boats on the Amazon
Brazil: Understanding Novelas
Brazil: Bus fires in São Paulo – always a bad thing?

Around Brazil: Santana de Parnaiba

By John Fitzpatrick
If you live in São Paulo or are spending some time in the city and fancy a short trip to a pleasant, interesting and safe place then Santana de Parnaiba is worth a visit. Santana is refreshingly different from somewhere like Embu which has become a bit of a tourist trap over the years. Santana is only about 35 kilometers from the city center and, if you choose the right time and route, you can be there in 30 to 40 minutes.

It has changed enormously since I first visited it 20 years ago. The population has quadrupled, due to the arrival of many migrants, mainly from the Northeast, making it the fastest-growing place in the whole of Brazil in the 1990s. This means that there are now lots of crude constructions and favela-like settlements on the wrong” side of the track in the direction of Barueri. Another factor has been the growth of Alphaville – on the “right” side of the tracks – which has become a victim of its own success as more and more people have fled from São Paulo.

Despite this, the center of Santana is still charming, with brightly-painted little houses, an imposing Baroque church and an agreeable square with an English-style bandstand. As you look up at the tree-clad hills surrounding the town, breathe the fresh air and enjoy the silence, it is difficult to believe that São Paulo is so close. There must be something about the place since a recent survey showed that Santana is the town with the longest rates of longevity in the Greater São Paulo region.

Santana was founded around 1580 and claims to be the starting point from which the bandeirantes set off on their explorations which took them to practically every corner of Brazil and even into neighboring countries. São Paulo people are very proud of their bandeirantes and Santana boasts that it was because of them that Brazil grew to its present size and strength. That may be true and the bandeirantes achievements were impressive but their motives were not. The bandeirantes were driven by greed. They hunted Indians whom they turned into slaves even though many, if not most, had Indian blood in their veins. They also searched for gold and precious stones like emeralds. This is how the “Brasil A/Z Enciclopedia” sums them up: “The bandeirantes are attributed with expanding Brazil&rsquot;s territory (previously officially limited by the Treaty of Tordesilhas), settling the interior and discovering the country&rsquot;s natural resources. However, they were also responsible for the decimation of the many indigenous peoples, even attacking the Jesuit missions to capture Indians.”

Birthplace of the Brazilian People?
This is not how Santana recalls the bandeirantes. A monument was recently erected at the entrance of the town which presents a rather Disney-like version of history in the form of life-sized statues. One shows a noble-looking bandeirante (representing “idealism”) pointing to the horizon while another (“courage”) fends off a charging jaguar on one side as a snake coils round his leg on the other. Another brave bandeirante proudly holds up his baby son as the mother, a naked Indian woman, crouches by his side. “Nasce of Povo Brasileiro” (the Brazilian people are born) is how this scene is described. A fierce-looking Indian (“The Owner of the Forest”) stands nearby clutching a spear. There are statues of Indian children playing with wild animals and a couple of boys – one European and the other of mixed Indian and Portuguese parentage. There is a more realistic touch in another monument showing a slave pulling a boat carrying the founder of Santana, a woman called Suzana Dias, her son, Andre Fernandes, and a priest, Padre Guilherme Pompeu. This monument stands rather forlornly on a traffic island in the middle of the road a couple of hundred yards from the center. A smaller memorial, without the naãve concepts and boastful claims, closer to the center might have been in better taste. However, this is not the Paulista way. You only have to visit the Bandeirantes monument outside Ibirapuera park which is also situated on a traffic island forcing pedestrians to dodge cars to visit it.

Architectural Retreat
Santana&rsquot;s main points of interest all lie within eyeshot of each other and the town is centered on the two squares on either side of the church. This church was founded in 1560 as a chapel dedicated to St. Anthony. It has been renovated many times over the last four centuries and the present structure dates from 1892. It is a beautiful two-storey beige and white colonial building, topped with a single tower. There is no shortage of lovely buildings like this throughout Brazil yet today&rsquot;s architects appear not to have been inspired by them. Instead, they have turned modern São Paulo into one of the world&rsquot;s most unattractive cities. The downturn area has almost no colonial-style buildings left while the Italian and French style buildings of the early 20th century have been left to decay. As the city has grown, homes and businesses have spread away from the old center and millions of people live and work in concrete and glass monstrosities with no human touch which could have been designed by robots.

The church, now known as Nossa Senhora de Santana, is a functioning place of worship for the local community. Inside it is dark and cool, with whitewashed walls and heavy wooden benches for the congregation. There is gold leaf around the main altar, statues in wood and terracotta in niches, the stations of the cross on the walls and several altars. Protestants will no doubt shudder and shake their heads at the statue of Our Lady of the Sorrows (Nossa Senhora dos Dores) who clutches the crown of thorns in her hand while a sword sticks out from her heart. Another statue shows Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Nossa Senhora de Carmo) holding the infant Jesus in one arm and scapulas of the Carmelite nuns in another. Other statues include a black St. Benedict holding the baby Jesus and a life-sized Jesus with his crown of thorns on his way to being crucified. As a Catholic from far-off Glasgow, in the west of Scotland, I feel surprisingly at home here.

Next to the church is the house which belonged to the bandeirante Bartolomeu Bueno da Silva known by his Indian name “Anhanguera” which means the “old devil”. He is said to have found gold in Goias in 1683 but was more interested in slaves. São Paulo residents will know him from the grim statue at the entrance to the Trianon park in Avenida Paulista opposite the Masp museum. This house dates from 1600 and is said to be the oldest remaining building in the state of São Paulo. You can go inside and see the conditions under which people lived in those days. The house is spartan to say the least and makes you wonder what life was like for those who were not as well off. This place is supposed to have been used a lover&rsquot;s tryst by Dom Pedro I and his mistress, the Marquessa of Santos, and was known as Dom Pedro&rsquot;s Inn. There are two other buildings next door which include a cultural center and a kind of art gallery. According to the guide book there are over 200 preserved buildings, most dating from the 19th century, clustered in the streets around the church.

Tourist Events
As Santana has started to exploit its tourist potential a number of bars and restaurants have sprung up and a crafts fair is held on Sundays. There is a small tourist office and a helpful assistant who speaks English. There are also special events throughout the year, usually with a religious origin, such as the pre-Carnival parade which is opened by the town&rsquot;s own group known as the “Night Shout” (Grito da Noite). During this event, which goes back to the 17th century, people dress up as ghosts, monsters, skeletons and monsters and form a procession to the cemetery. The event will be held on February 16 this year. Other main events include the Passion Play (April 5-7), Corpus Christi (June 7), when the streets are literally covered with scores of colored carpets bearing religious images, and the Patron Saint&rsquot;s Day (July 26).

Santana is so small that a couple of hours will be enough to have a good look round. You can then move along the so-called “Roteiro dos Bandeirantes” to other nearby places like Pirapora de Bom Jesus, Araariguama, Cabreuiva, Itu, Salto, Porto Feliz and Tiet which are also rich in terms of history and religion. For much of the time you will be following the river Tiete. Unfortunately the river becomes terribly polluted after heavy rain and a surrealistic scene appears – huge bubbles of white foam float across the water as though the river has become a gigantic bathtub. It is a reminder that, although Santana might have been the starting place for the growth of the Brazil, it was also the entry point to many of the problems which have plagued Brazil in the past and continue to do so today.

John Fitzpatrick 2007

John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish writer and consultant with long experience of Brazil. He is based in São Paulo and runs his own company Celtic Comunicaes. This article originally appeared on his site http://www.brazilpoliticalcomment.com.br. He can be contacted at jf@celt.com.br.

Previous articles by John Fitzpatrick on www.gringoes.com:

Brazilians Start to Stand Up for Their Rights
Darfur – Brazil&rsquot;s African Side Show
Economics and Politics in Brazil – a Tangled Web
Brazil&rsquot;s Strange Idea of Democracy
Brazil: John Pizzarelli – the Boy from Ipanema
Brazil’s Stock Market: the Path to Riches or Rags?
Brazil: Lula Unlikely to Change Course after His Massive Victory
Brazil: Privatization – Lula and Alckmin Defend the Indefensible
Brazil: Many Emigrants, Fewer Immigrants Part 2
Brazil: Many Emigrants, Fewer Immigrants Part 1
Brazil: Alckmin Hits Lula but Lands No Killer Blow
Brazil: Lula Pays the Penalty for Complacency
Brazil: Does Lula Deserve to Win?
Brazil: Cardoso Writes a Poison Pen Letter
Monte Verde – Brazil&rsquot;s Green Mountain
Brazil’s Gross Disappointing Product
Brazil’s Election – Alckmin Hands Lula Victory on a Plate
Lula Hits Back at Congress
Brazil’s Presidential Election May Not be a Walkover for Lula
Pity the Brazilian Voter
Brazil&rsquot;s Fainthearts Let the Nation Down
Now is the Winter of Brazil&rsquot;s Discontent
World Cup brings Out the Best and Worst in Brazil
Brazil’s Big Spender
Brazil: The Dogs of War are Unleashed in São Paulo
Brazil: Self-Righteous Indignation Marks Bolivian Nationalization
Brazil: Lula Still Vulnerable
Brazil: The PSDB Takes the Hard Road
Fooling Around with Brazilian Politics and History Part 3
Fooling Around with Brazilian Politics and History Part 2
Fooling Around with Brazilian Politics and History Part 1
Brazil: Alckmin the Hare Takes on Serra the Tortoise
Patronizing Brazilians the Politically Correct Way
Brazil: Election Gives Voters Chance to Clean Up Congress
Brazil: João Pessoa – a Victim of its Own Success
No Consistency in Brazil&rsquot;s Foreign Policy
Brazil: Sitting in the Shadow of Sarney and Magalhes
Brazil: Gentrification Creeps Up On São Paulo
Dirt Flies as Brazilian Parties Aim for Presidency
Brazilians Vote for Guns and Death Not Peace and Love
Brazil’s Gun Lobby Launches Hysterical Campaign Against Arms Ban
Jews and Arabs Find Success in Brazil
Brazil&rsquot;s Politicians Start Looking Ahead to Next Year
Brazil: Lula Down but Certainly Not Out
Brazil&rsquot;s Congress Struggles to Cope with Ongoing Crisis
Brazil: Scandal Threatens Presidential Mandate System
Brazil: If Lula is to Survive He Needs to Change His Tactics
Brazil: Many Parties – Few Ideas
Brazil Through Foreign Eyes
Helping the Helpless in Brazil
Pinheiros – São Paulo&rsquot;s Best District
Growing Old (Dis)gracefully in Brazil
Canudos, Still With Us 100 Years Later
The Rise of the Brazilian Empire
Brazil and Portugal – The Samba and the Fado
Brazil – Just A State Of Mind
Brazil: For Lula, is Ignorance Bliss?
Brazil: Pay Day – or Pay Dirt?