By Paul Barnett
April 17, 2009

For four years now I have been living in Recife. I just never get bored with this place. It has so much to offer; a fantastic climate and hundreds of kilometres of fantastic beaches many protected by the natural reefs that run along the coast, creating natural tropical lagoons at low tide. Then there is a wealth of history in the old part of Recife, and the UNESCO World Heritage site, Olinda. The countryside too offers a mix of fantastic landscapes and symbols of the regions colonial past. Of course, Fernando do Noronha, a tropical island paradise and eco reserve known to many is also part of the state.

With all this to offer, I never cease to be amazed at how few tourists the region attracts, far less than Salvador, Fortaleza and Natal. I can see that Salvador is a serious contender with a lot to offer, but in my opinion Fortaleza and Natal do not come close. Figures show that less than 5% of foreign tourists to Brazil visit Pernambuco, and only 6% of all tourists to the region are foreigners.

Why do tourists not come here? Some say crime, others say lack of infrastructure. I reject both theories. Rio, with its high rates of crime, gets tourists, and the infrastructure here is more than adequate. The biggest reason is bad marketing. Pernambuco is largely unknown outside Brazil. It is not that crime or poor infrastructure puts people off. The problem is that the region is never on their radar for consideration in the first place.

What little promotion I have seen has been very poor, and is supported by an almost useless website. Tourist information in foreign languages does not exist except for the odd flyer or map, with superficial information, often in badly translated English.

The foreign tourist here is lost. Even a place like Olinda cannot be fully appreciated. There is no guide book to Olinda in English and the official, and unofficial, guides there are un-prepared. Few speak foreign languages and many perpetuate false myths about several points of interest. I have also heard complaints that they appear very threatening.

After becoming aware of all these problems, I decided to do something about them. The first step was the creation of

0 Comments/by

By John Fitzpatrick
February 9, 2009

I was looking at an American guide book to Brazil recently and felt great sympathy with the writer when he tried to describe São Paulo. It was obvious that he had been so horrified by the sheer size and apparent chaos of the city that he had ditched all the flowery verbiage which marked the rest of the guide and did little more than list some hotels and restaurants. He made it clear that the section on São Paulo was for the unfortunate business traveler and not for the sensible tourist who would not go near the place. You could almost sense the relief as he got onto the next chapter.

This is a natural reaction from any foreign visitor who has been led to believe that Brazil is a kind of gigantic tropical beach-cum-jungle paradise. The fact is that São Paulo can be an overwhelming place even for local and foreign residents.

São Paulo is so big that it is impossible for anyone to know the whole city. It is growing so fast that it has already swallowed up separate municipalities like Guarulhos and Osasco. It is a matter of time before it takes over places like the ABC towns, Jundiai and, who knows, even Campinas and Mogi das Cruzes. Santos would already be part of the city if it were not for the barrier of the Serra do Mar mountains.

I first came here over 20 years ago and there are still areas I have never set foot in. I have got completely lost many times. Once I took a bus from Osasco to the Pinheiros district, a distance of about six miles. After 10 minutes of following a familiar route, the bus took an unexpected turning and then proceeded to take me through districts which were totally unknown. I became so confused that I asked the driver if we were really heading for Pinheiros or another district with the same name. He assured me we were. One hour and forty minutes after leaving, I finally arrived at the Largo da Batata bus station.

I am constantly recommending visitors to double the amount of time they have scheduled just to cope with the traffic. My advice to people coming to live here is to try and find accommodation near your work, leave your car at home and take a taxi or use public transport if possible. Draw up a monthly budget for taxis and youll find it cheaper than the cost of running a car. Let the taxi driver cope with the stress, petrol bills, parking costs and overheated engines. It is also worth getting to know a taxi driver you can trust and can call whenever you need him. These are the Sir Galahads of the city and worth their weight in gold. This is because even taxi drivers often dont know certain parts of the city. Getting to your destination can then become like a motor rally with the passenger becoming a navigator/map reader – if the taxi driver has a map, that is.

As São Paulo has no easily recognizable prominent geographical landmarks, apart from the Serra da Cantareira hill, it is difficult to get a fix on a location. Tens of thousands of skyscrapers block views and the intense traffic makes it hard to get your bearings. Asking passers-by for directions can be frustrating as they are often as lost as you. Dont be surprised if people come up to you in the metro or street and ask for directions even though the signs and street names are marked. This is because many people are illiterate and if you look educated they will assume you can read.

There are almost 1,000 separate bus routes just within the city and almost 30 terminals. There are also hundreds of routes taking passengers throughout other states in Brazil and even as far away as Santiago de Chile, 3,883 kilometers across the Andes on the other side of the continent. There is a so-called integrated transport system involving buses, trains and the metro stretching from Jundiai in the north to Ferrazopolis in the south. It looks good on paper but the reality is different.

The metro is far too small for such a large city and can become downright scary at peak periods. I have squeezed out of trains several times during the rush hour before reaching my destination to escape being crushed. The train service is also not up to the task. The CPTM line is still new and efficient but many of the other routes are served by dirty old trains that should have been scrapped years ago. There are also no intercity trains, something which Europeans find incredible.

There are no also train or public bus service to the airports and travelers rely on taxis or private coaches. The airports are far apart. The main domestic airport is in Congonhas, near Jabaquara, while the international airport is at Cumbica in Guarulhos. There is also another international airport at Viracopos, near Campinas, but it is little used although it is easier to reach than Guarulhos.

The administration is not centralized so you can find yourself traveling long distances for essential services. The state government has its official headquarters in Ipiranga but the administration is based in the Vale do Anhangeira downtown area. The state assembly building is next to Ibirapuera park while the city council meets in the downtown area. The area around the Praca da S contains some of the financial businesses, including the stock and futures markets, the Bovespa and BM&F, but the main financial groups are headquartered as far away as Osasco (Bradesco), Jabaquara (Ita), the marginal Pinheiros (Unibanco) and Santo Amaro (Santander).

Most heavy industrial activities are carried on outside the city as such, such as car manufacturing in the ABC towns of Santo Andre, Bernardo and Caetano. The services sector tends to be centered in the Paulista, Faria Lima, Itaim, Berrini districts but many companies have moved even further out in the direction of Interlagos where the Formula One race takes place.

The bane of a foreigners life is the Federal Police headquarters which is located in the outer reaches of the Lapa district a long way from its old central location. The previous place was a dump but at least it was in a convenient location. I had to make two trips to the new Federal Police station recently to renew my visa. This not only meant that I was unable to work those afternoons but I had to pay around R$600 in taxi fares and for a despachante (fixer) to get my papers in order. This is part of the infamous custo Brasil” which holds this country back.

Welcome to São Paulo!

John Fitzpatrick 2009

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:

Brazil: Will Obama Mention the “Brics” or just the “Rics”?
Brazil 2009 – The Year of Living Dangerously
Brazil: São Paulo Mayoral Election – a Foretaste of the Presidential Race?
Looking for Brazil’s Moon Under Water
Brazil’s Lula Finally Stops Playing the Blame Game
Brazil: Coming Up – Serra versus Dilma?
Brazil Becomes Middle Class but Not Bourgeois
Where is Brazil’s Barack Obama?
Brazil: Lula Loses Some of His Moral Luster
Lost Your Job on Wall Street? Head for Brazil!
Brazil: Lula Loves Investment Grade – Whatever That Is
There’s No Business Like Oil Business – in Brazil Anyway
Benefits of Brazil’s Growth Start to Spread
Let Brazilians Sort Out the Problems of the Amazon
Brazil’s Politicians Set to Cash in on Oil and Gas Discoveries
Brazil: Lula Learns the Lesson of Not Planning Ahead
Cops and Robbers Brazilian Style
Brazil: Oscar Freire – São Paulo’s Street of Dreams
Brazil: Lula Called to Account on Tax
Will Lula Leave Brazil in Safe or Unsafe Hands?
Senate Spits in the Face of the Brazilian People
The Lord Mayor Goes Zapping the NYSE in Brazil
Brazil: Economic Boom – Political Gloom
Around Brazil: Natal – Sun, Sand Dunes and Solitude or Hassle, Hustlers and Hookers
ACM – Brazil Will Never See His Like Again
Brazilians Let Politicians Treat Them as Doormats
Senate Chairman Upholds Tradition of Treating Brazil with Contempt
Brits Turn Their Backs on Brazil
Look Out for the New BBC – the Brazilian Broadcasting Corporation
Navel Gazing in Brasilia – Largesse in São Paulo
Brazil’s Politicians Share the Spoils
Cida – A Brazilian Entrepreneur
Ten Top Brazilian Songs to Download on Your iPod
Lula Lets Brazilians Down by Failing to Exercise His Authority
Brazil: Laid Back Lula Finally Gets His Team (Almost) Together
The George W. Bush PR Show Comes to Brazil
Briefing Bush on Brazil the CIA Way
US Authorities Tackle Brazil’s White Collar Criminals
Brazil’s Opposition Parties Try to End Disarray
Lula Faces Arm-Wrestling Contest with New Congress
Brazil Waits for Lula to Return from Holiday
Around Brazil: Santana de Parnaiba
Brazilians Start to Stand Up for Their Rights
Darfur – Brazil’s African Side Show
Economics and Politics in Brazil – a Tangled Web
Brazil’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’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’s Fainthearts Let the Nation Down
Now is the Winter of Brazil’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’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’s Politicians Start Looking Ahead to Next Year
Brazil: Lula Down but Certainly Not Out
Brazil’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’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?

By Jonathan Fernando
February 9, 2009

Explore Rio’s Romantic Side for Valentines Day
If you are hoping to take your loved one away on Valentine’s, South America might seem to be a curious choice. But escaping the all-too-familiar breaks in Paris and Venice, Rio de Janeiro offers the budget traveler an intriguing alternative for a spot of romance.

Show your partner how much you really care by whisking them off to Brazil’s golden capital for a truly indulgent trip that can add a bit of spice to your Valentine’s Day without breaking the bank.

Dia dos Namorados
Translated as ‘Boyfriend/Girlfriend’s Day’, this is actually the Brazilian equivalent of Valentine’s Day. The festivities are set in June instead of February, with the date coinciding with the traditional celebration of St. Anthony, who was considered the bearer of good fortune towards relationships.

A variety of concerts, performances and musical shows are hosted throughout the country on this day and it is not uncommon for couples to spend it partying with their friends and families.

Ilha Grande
During the day, take a bus or taxi out of Rio de Janeiro and head north to explore the cluster of beach islands famous for their beautiful and scenic landscape. The Ilha Grande is best visited in the hotter months of February when the expansive golden beaches, tropical forestry and blue ocean can be truly taken advantage of.

Once a part of the Atlantic rainforest (one of the largest ecosystems in the world) the region is home to a number of endangered species. The highest point is the Pico da Pedra D’gua, which stands at over 1000 meters high and provides unrivalled views of the stunning surroundings.

Zaza Bistro
Travelers looking for dinner on a budget can make a stop at Zaza’s, located in the Ipanema district of Rio. The menu offers a wonderful mix of cultures and flavors, incorporating a blend of traditional Latin dishes as well as Asian and European foods to perfectly cater to all tastes.

Sit and eat outdoors to catch a glimpse of the vibrant nightlife life of Ipanema, or the plush seating inside can provide a more private and ambient surrounding, making for a very romantic setting.

Rio Scenarium
A trip to Rio would not be complete without taking in the exciting and varied nightlife that the city has to offer. The Rio Scenarium is a very popular bar that makes for a fabulous place to spend the evening with your loved one, thanks to its lively and colorful atmosphere.

With food and drinks at very modest prices, treat yourself to a fruity cocktail and a bite to eat, such as the local fish dishes which prove to be extremely popular. Spend the rest of the evening dancing long into the night to the sounds of samba music provided by live bands.

Backpackers can take full advantage of the sun, sea and sand of Rio, whilst indulging in the cultural spectacle of Brazil – making this Valentine’s Day one to remember.

Before joining HostelBookers.com in 2008, Jonathan Fernando traveled extensively in Brazil and stayed in

0 Comments/by

By Kieran Dobson
October 10, 2008

Rio’s Beaches
A native of Rio de Janeiro city is known as a carioca which is the word for ‘native’ in the language of the Indians that originally inhabited the area.

Any carioca will know that the beaches of Rio de Janeiro are a big part of the carioca lifestyle and that the trendy Zona Sul or South Zone of Rio is where most of the beach action is. This includes Copacabana and Leme beaches where most of the tourist hotels are located followed by Ipanema and Leblon. The beaches closer to Guanabara Bay are somewhat polluted and therefore avoided by most. Moving further away from the Zona Sul beaches you will encounter cleaner and more surfer friendly beaches such as São Conrado, also the site for hang gliding or paragliding landing after takeoff from nearby Pedra Bonito mountain. After São Conrado and a journey through one of the many tunnels that go through the many mountains in and around the city you will enter beautiful Barra da Tijuca. The sign says for you to smile as you enter Barra and so you should, because there is 20 kilometres of uninterrupted golden beaches till the end of Recreio. Of course if you like surfing you’ll be smiling and loving Barra, there is also a kitesurfing dedicated area at Praia do Pepe, one of the principal hotspots in Barra for all the hip people to pose and soak up the sun.

The combination of the tropical climate and the beautiful people obsessed with looking good means that on a fine day in Rio, the beach is where nearly everyone is. The women wear almost invisible bikins appropriately nicknamed fio dental or dental floss. The males are not afraid to show off their finely honed bodies from many hours in the gym in tight swimming trunks known as sungas. On most of the popular beaches in Rio you can hire a chair and umbrella for a small amount for the day. Whenever you are thirsty or hungry there will always be someone closeby to satisfy your thirst or hunger whether it be with an ice cold beer – just ask for uma cerveja… geladissima, agua de coco (coconut water), grilled cheese stick, savoury snacks, or ice cream amongst the various offerings. If you forgot to bring a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses or heaven forbid you forgot your bikini or sunga… don’t worry, someone will surely be there selling what you need.

Sights and Cultural Activities
The Cidade Maravilhosa is named so, most likely because everyone marvels at all there is to see and do here. The main sights to see include the Christ the Redeemer Statue, an imposing 38 meter high monument of Jesus Christ with arms outstretched that looks like a giant illuminated cross when viewed in the distance on a clear night. It is located on Corcovado Mountain in the Tijuca National Park, a magnificent green oasis dividing the affluent South Zone from the rest of the city and reputed to be the largest urban park in the world. The other ‘must see’ tourist attraction is Sugarloaf Mountain at the entrance of Guanabara Bay. A cablecar lift takes you to the the first rock mountain known as Morro da Urca and from there you take another cablecar to get to Sugarloaf mountain at an altitude of 396 metres. A City Tour of Rio de Janeiro will most likely include stops at the Maracana Footbal Stadium – a great place to see a football match between one of the four main teams of the city, the Metropolitan Cathedral, Arches of Lapa and Santa Teresa district. There is a tram that travels over the arches and winds its way up the hills of Santa Teresa.

The 14 km long Rio-Niteroi Bridge can be seen atop Corcovado when you are at the Christ statue or Sugarloaf mountain and offers yet another spectacular view if you get the chance to cross it on your way to Niteroi on the other side of Guanabara Bay where the flying saucer shaped Contemporary Arts Museum is located, designed by reknowned Brazilian architect Oscar Niemayer.

The downtown area of Rio is very busy during the week and this would be the best time to venture in if you are travelling independently to see sights such as the Theatro Municipal, São Bento monastery, Metropolitan Cathedral and Praa XV where the ferry terminal is for Niteroi and Ilha da Paqueta. The CCBB (Banco do Brasil Cultural Centre) is located close to the busy Praa XV and has a varied cultural program with expositions, theatre pieces, film fesivals and a library.

History
Portuguese explorers entered Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay in an expedition led by Portuguese explorer Gaspar de Lemos on January 20, 1502; hence the name of Rio de Janeiro which means ‘January River’. There was a French presence in the area for some time, extracting the valuable brazilwood. The city was founded on March 1, 1565, by Portuguese knight Estcio de S who called it São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro 20 , in honour of Saint Sebastian whose feast day is traditionally on January 20. To this day St Sebastian is the patron saint of the city, the day being a public holiday in Rio de Janeiro. The city was founded as a base from which to expel the French present in the region and this was achieved in 1567. The many military forts that remain to this day at Copacabana and the entrance to Guanabara Bay remind us of how the settlement was constantly under attack from pirates and enemies of Portugal during these times.

Rio de Janeiro was the capital of Brazil from 1763 until 1960 when Brasilia was inaugurated as the capital in a planned move to open up the vast interior of the country. In 1808, the Portuguese court, fleeing from Napoleon’s troops who had invaded Portugal, established themselves in the city of Rio de Janeiro, which thus became the seat of government of Portugal and the entire Portuguese Empire, even though being located outside of Europe. Rio de Janeiro was the capital of the Portuguese empire from 1808 to 1815. Prince Pedro I declared Brazil’s inependence on September 7, 1822. When the monarchy was replaced by a republic in 1889, Rio continued as the capital of Brazil until 1960 when the newly built Brasilia became the country’s capital and home of the federal government.

The Maracana stadium has been the scene of many historic football matches especially between Rio’s four main local teams: Botofogo, Flamengo, Fluminense and Vasco. In 1950, the newly built Maracana stadium was the setting for the famous World Cup match between Brazil and Uruguay. Unfortunately for the hosts, Uruguay won this decisive match in the round robin format which led to them becoming World champions. Redevelopment of the stadium for the Pan-American games in 2007 has revitalised the stadium and it should once again be the scene of many exciting football mtaches in the 2014 World cup which will be hosted by Brazil.

About the author: Kieran Dobson is a travel and language consultant whose websites www.braziltailored.com and www.braziledge.com aim to inform and entertain you with news, travel advice, informative articles, music, videos and other media direct out of Brazil.

Previous articles by Kieran:

0 Comments/by

By Marilyn Diggs
September 1, 2008

Im a city girl, but there are times when my soul yearns for open spaces. Recently I found the perfect getaway fazenda (farm) only 45 km from São Paulo, in the Jap Mountain range. The Serra do Jap area, which begins in Jundia and ends in Cabreuva, was known for wine production and coffee plantations in the early 20th century. Since the 1970s the government has promoted the planting of eucalyptus trees which makes beautiful forests and homes for wildlife including monkeys, sloths, capivaras (capybaras) and a myriad of butterfly and bird species.

Fazenda Montanhas do Jap combines history and modern conveniences
Black and blue-winged, white breasted swallows dip and sway around us as they pause in their migration from Patagonia to Canada. The weather is crisp yet sunny, so we have breakfast with hot homemade bread on the terrace overlooking a lake. Soon the horses are saddled for exploring the lakes, paths and pastures. We listen attentively to the history of the place as the horses plod along the leaf-strewn way:

In the 1660s, bandeirantes (trailblazers) explored this area in search of gold. Local Indians were made slaves to help with the expeditions. Some escaped and fled to the hills, many finding refuge with the Jesuits. Fazenda Montanhas do Jap was originally a Jesuit mission built in 1700. Pieces of the original walls made of stone and cemented with mud remain as part of the main house’s architecture. The owner, concerned with preservation and history, rescued the oldest window shudders in Jundia (1700), which belonged to the town’s old salt house and incorporated them into the hotel. The brick floors and window sills were recycled from demolished buildings as well, giving the hotel a rustic charm of yesteryear. The wood-burning stove, a legacy of colonial times, is still used in the hinterlands.

Activities for all ages
After a delicious lunch, enhanced by the wood-stove, we head back into the forest. Over 300 hectares of land give visitors plenty of room to roam. Marked trails lead us to twisted surrealistic fig trees, bridges made of trunks, hidden niches with refreshing fountains and bamboo canopies. We end up at a little farm and feed the Guinea hens dressed in their fancy white-polka-dots-on-black feathers. It is late afternoon, so we grab fishing poles and sit on the bank of a nearby lake, mesmerized by the cork float, ready to yank at the first tug. Fish are always returned to the lake; the fun is in the sport. Young children join their parents inside a cart pulled by a tractor for a tour of the grounds. As the sun begins to set, we head back to a burning fireplace in the main house, and listen to a guest strum the guitar before our candlelight dinner. Freshly plucked cidreira (lemongrass) leaves make a hot tea before bedtime while sounds of nature lull us to sleep. Tomorrow we will head back to the concrete jungle, but tonight we belong to the country life.

Fazenda Montanhas do Jap. Estrada de Santa Clara 5660. Serra do Japi, Jundia, São Paulo state. Tel: (11)4599-9072, (11)4599-9294, (11)7205-1397. www.montanhasdojapi.com.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:

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

By Bruce Jay
June 10, 2008

Too many tourists travel to Maragogi in the state of Alagoas and don’t see the tens of kilometers of unspoiled beaches and the spectacular reefs that protect the state’s second most frequented tourist destination. Daily, hundreds come off buses on excursions and board one of the fifteen large sightseeing catamarans to visit the tropical pools at what is called the Gals. Looking to their right and left, I am sure that some catch a glimpse of what they are missing and wonder. The beach, lagoon and the reef are a large eco system waiting to be explored. Maragogi is the gateway to the 130 kilometers of beaches and reefs of the region known as the Coral Coast – A Costa dos Corais.

Visit Maragogi and the Coral Coast while it’s still being discovered. Maragogi, Alagoas is this region’s gateway since it has a good infrastructure with great variety of resorts, hotels, inns and guest houses as well as a lively downtown water front. The city is only two hours on paved highway from both Recife and Maceio. Stretching north and south from Maragogi’s urban core are vast stretches of almost deserted beaches, many with easy access to a uniquely welcoming reef. These unspoiled beaches are dotted with some of the most charming pousadas or inns in Brazil. These are located in a cluster of closely knit municipalities along the northern coast of the state of Alagoas and include, besides Maragogi, the towns of Japaratinga, Porto de Pedras, São Miguel dos Milagres, Passo de Camaragibe and Barra de Santo Antonio.

The beaches and reefs of Maragogi alone extend for 22 kilometers. Just north from the city center, except for the few small villages inhabited by fishermen and summer homes, or where small streams flow into the sea, the beaches with crystal clear waters are one long, hard packed walking path perfect for strolling and shelling. Depending on the tide, time of day and the cloud cover, the ever changing views and colors of the lagoon make each day’s experience different from the last. Overall, my most spectacular memories of these beaches are when the sun raises, painting colors in the sky over the reef, bringing light to new adventures.

If you are lucky, you will be able to visit at the full or the new moon, when the tides are at their lowest. Then, at the points like those known by locals as Antunes and Xareu, it is possible to walk two kilometers out to the reef with water just above your ankles in what normally is well over one’s head. At most any low tide, after a short boat ride or jangada sail, a visitor has the chance to go reef combing and visit the many transparent tropical pools with just the precaution of wearing some protective footwear, such as beach or tennis shoes.

For the adventurous, the most deserted beaches close to Maragogi are Burgalhão, just to the north of the waterfront, and the afore mentioned Antunes and Xaru. Depending on where you are staying, you have the choice of going on little microbuses or “combies” that run up and down the paved road (AL-101) on the outskirts of the city center. Just tell them the name of the beach you want to see. They’ll be able to drop you off at the right spot. This transport is very inexpensive so bring loose change!

These same “combies” along with some regularly scheduled buses will also take you further south to the other cities that make up the Coral Coast for even greater adventures. Renting a car for a day excursion is another option. Driving allows one to follow the route that hugs the sea through Japaratinga’s Barreira de Bucarão to the ferry that takes you across the Manguaba River to Porto de Pedras and beyond. It is well worth it. This trip is never the same no matter how many times I do it. Stop for lunch at the simple restaurants along the shore or travel on to one of the Pousadas de Charme between Porto de Pedras and São Miguel dos Milagres to experience their epicurean delights and their excellent pristine beaches. Just beyond the village of Janparatinga, I recommend Dona Mara’s Caiuia Estalagem for great food in very comfortable surroundings. But, other great choices abound. See below for additional information.

Local arts and crafts of coconut, wood, or straw from banana trees as well as shells can be found along all these routes and along the water front of Maragogi. Much of it is unique to the region. For those that want a break from the beach, there are side trips into the hinterland. The most notable adventure is the Visgueiro Tree – Ecological trail that is supported by the agricultural coop Coopeagro in Maragogi.

Brazil is filled with great beaches, but few have the combination of reefs, lagoon and kilometers of pristine sands of the Coral Coast. Come take a dip.

For more information consult the site brazilbeachbum@yahoo.com.

By Marilyn Diggs
June 9, 2008

During my last two trips to the Amazon I stayed in a posh hotel and did the routine tours. This time would be different. I wanted to live the Amazon,” as the slogan of Amazonat Ecotours says. National Geographic magazine’s rating of Amazonat enticed me, awarding it 95% in spirit of adventure and 92% in quality of service. From the Manaus airport my small group of six traveled 160 km east in an air-conditioned van to the jungle lodge. In a clearing smack dab in the rainforest, we walk past the thatched-roof reception area (see photo below) to our duplex bungalows, beautifully decorated with hardwoods and local handicrafts. The jungle lodge is one of three options, the survival camp and the riverboat being the others.

Trekking in the Amazon Rain Forest
After a buffet breakfast, red araras (parrots) send us off on hiking trails under a closed evergreen canopy. Our guide splits open the jenipapo fruit, squishing the seeds with his machete and finger-paints our forearms with Indian tattoos whose indigo color is visible only hours later. So begins our initiation. We proceed through giant tree-lined, leaf-carpeted trails, listening to the capitão do mato bird as he alerts the forest of our intrusion. Enrico, our bilingual Peruvian guide, stops and puts his hand against a tree trunk. Instantly it is covered by tiny, red tapiva ants. He rubs them into his skin and asks us to note the pleasant odor. Indians do this all over their body when hunting to disguise their human smell. We are silent and watchful of swaying branches that hide monkeys while our eyes dart back to the path, mindful of snakes. A 2-meter jibóia cobra relaxes behind a fallen trunk along the path, with only his head visible. Our guide’s sharp eyes and lightning reflexes suspend the snake with a metal hooked rod for our perusal. Its black spots on beige stripes writhe and contort until it is safely lowered into the woods where it vanishes.

Eventually we arrive to the second lodge option – Jane’s Place, the jungle survival camp with two decks supported on stilts. Palm-sized blue butterflies and lime green dragonflies are curious to see us. Campers can spend the night in hammocks or enjoy it as a rest stop for lunch and wade in the tea-colored stream. Amazonat is on a black water tributary – due to the chemical composition of the water there are no mosquitoes here. There is also a nearby lake with a white-sand beach and a swimming pool at the main lodge.

River Adventure
While jungle forays expose us to the fascinating macro-mosaic forest world, boat cruising takes us to three Amazon tributaries, as well as the great dame river herself. Gray dolphins play near the dock as we board long motorized canoes that sit close to the water. It is the end of the rainy season, so floating houseboats bob along riversides and tall, submerged trees have their roots some 40 meters below. We make our way through inlets, temporarily disturbing a sloth on a tree top who slowly moves further into the leaves and turns his back to us. A giant tree lizard gets spooked and splashes into the water. Parakeets chatter, toucans clatter, and parrots swoop to neighboring refuges. We stop at Dona Zaza’s modest wooden river house and fish off the tiny dock for piranha. Next is a visit to an Indian village along the river where dogs languish near smoking pots. A pet parrot accompanies our interview with the cacique’s sister, whose shy child hides behind her.

Our boat maneuvers into a lake filled with gigantic green Victoria Regia pads and bright pink flowers. We are so close to the water that we touch their plastic-like surface. At dusk so many white heron fill the trees that they look snow-laden. Our approach frightens them and the sky is filled with flapping white. Sunset on the Amazon brings a light-show spectacle of orange, yellow, pink and purple. Lanterns shine into the black night as caiman eyes reflect it back. In an instant the guide leaps over the boat into a swamp and brings his bounty back to us: a 75cm long baby caiman that is returned after our curiosity and adrenaline subside. The boat docks; I leave the Amazon River still thirsty to see and know more. I have never felt so close to its essence.

CONTACT:
Amazonat Ecotours SP. Av. Paulista, 2073. São Paulo. Tel. (11) 3253-6114 or (11)3253-7878. www.mdiggs.com

Previous articles by Marilyn:

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

By Marc Korn
May 15, 2008

It’s amazing what you can accomplish with a dar um jetinho” (can do) attitude. Like plan a trip to the Amazon… in the 48 hours before leaving! That’s what I did last December. In this story I want to share my experiences of this trip with you, the good – and the one thing I would do differently.

I first visited Brazil 3 years ago and I loved it… the people, the food, the culture… everything! I’ve been back 5 times now and I’ve studied Brazilian Portuguese at language schools in New York City ever since that first visit. As a biologist I especially enjoy traveling to wildlife areas – of which Brazil has so many – the Pantanal, Chapada Diamantina, Fernando de Noronha, the Amazon – to name a few.

Christmas vacation week was fast approaching and I had no plans. Work was… well… the corporate world can be a trying place at times. Getting away would be great. But the logistics were somewhat daunting… could I get plane tickets and reservations a few days in advance of one of the most heavily traveled weeks of the year?

The answer was… yes! The night of Wednesday, December 19th I purchased tickets from New York to São Paulo (using frequent flyer miles) and Friday night I left for Brazil. In the 48 hours before leaving I reserved a hotel in São Paulo, purchased round trip tickets from São Paulo to Manaus, reserved a room at an ecoresort in the jungle, obtained and filled a prescription for Malarone and packed. All that and more accomplished in 48 hours and, for the record, I worked a full day on Thursday.

For me, finding a really good naturalist guide is the key to successful ecotravel. So I was really pleased when I came across an article on the Guardian newspaper’s website about an ecoresort with a great guide. The Guardian was my favorite newspaper during the years I lived in London and the article was published about two weeks before I planned to leave – on the date of my birthday.

Ecoresorts in the Amazon are, of course, all inclusive (the nearest McDonald’s, or Habib’s to be more culturally a propos, is a long paddle away). Activities are programmed for you and where I stayed they included: piranha fishing, a guide-led rainforest walk, a tour of a Caboclo home, a visit with a local Indian tribe to see traditional dances, caiman-spotting, free time in the city of Manaus and a trip to the very cool “Meeting of the Waters.”

Piranha fishing involved lowering a hook baited with a small chunk of raw beef into the river and beating the surface of the water with the tip of the rod. While I had no luck (piranha are very skilled at eating around a fishing hook), my party overall caught about 10 fish over 2 or 3 hours. Everyone asks if you can eat piranha and the answer is yes – they can be grilled or made into the popular caldo de piranha – a soup I’d love to try some day.

Highlights of the rainforest walk included encountering a tarantula in situ (yes, this was one big, hairy spider), eating Survivor-style a white wriggling grub that lives in palm fruit and tastes like coconut (if the Guardian’s travel reporter can do it, so can I!) and seeing the infamous tucandeira ant, whose bite is said to cause its unlucky victim 24 hours of acute pain and fever. Male Amazon Indians prove their manhood by submitting to the bite of this ant repeatedly throughout their lives (learning of this made me think… perhaps corporate life isn’t so bad after all).

Manioc is a staple in the Amazon (and throughout Brazil). Preparing some varieties of manioc involves a little twist that sets them apart from wheat and corn, because the unprocessed root contains high levels of cyanide. An interesting aspect of the Caboclo home tour (Caboclos are individuals of mixed Indian and European descent) was seeing how manioc is processed. It’s a lot of work! The root is ground, mashed and excess liquid is wrung out. Then it is boiled. Only after the cyanide-containing liquid layer is poured off can the manioc be used in cooking.

Watching the Indians do traditional dances felt a little tourist-kitchy to me, but talking with the Indian chief, who spoke fluent Portuguese, was kind of cool. One of the things he said was that the whole tribe traditionally lived in one large lodge or dance hall, but because of the influence of what he described as “white” culture, many couples now want their own sleeping accommodations.

The eyes of caiman (relatives of alligators) reflect light, making them easy to spot at night by shining a lantern along the surface of the river. Having done caiman-spotting in an area of the Pantanal where the caiman were larger and more prevalent – I wasn’t expecting to experience anything new. But I was in for a surprise. After steering our motorboat beside one of the reptiles our guide, who was fully dressed, asked me to hold the lantern and immediately jumped into the river. A minute later he clambered back onto the boat with a somewhat unhappy looking caiman in his firm grip.

Two sites I’d long wanted to visit in Manaus are its famous fish market and opera house. The market has a great variety of fish including one of largest of fresh water fish, the pirarucu, which can weigh in excess of 400 pounds. The opera house was built in the 1890s, when Manaus was a very wealthy city due its rubber plantations. The market for rubber collapsed in the 1920s when the British successfully cultivated rubber trees in Asia and synthetic rubber was introduced. Seeing Christmas decorations along the main shopping streets of this jungle city gave me the same incongruous feeling as I used to get when I lived in Southern California and saw Christmas decorations on palm trees in Beverly Hills.

O Encontro dos guas, or the Meeting of the Waters, is a really unique phenomenon. Imagine a river with a line down the center. On one side of the line, the water is black – on the other yellow. This is the sight that greets you a few miles downstream from Manaus. There the Amazon tributary, the Rio Negro, merges with the Rio Solimes. The waters of the two rivers are very different in color, pH, temperature and density, and as a result the rivers flow together without merging for 10 miles or so. Pink Amazon dolphins are a common sight in this area.

The downside of my trip was customer service-related, you might say. I contacted the ecoresort I eventually stayed at directly to ask about availability, but booked through a Manaus travel agent (www.viverde.com.br) who offered a significantly lower price for the same package. They didn’t like this at the resort, and they let me know in many ways. To me, treating someone discourteously who has traveled quite a long distance to stay at your resort is a bad idea, but my hosts viewed this differently.

I was surprised this trip could happen with only 48 hours advance planning, and more surprised that everything worked so smoothly (with the one exception I mentioned, which was not a timing issue). The Amazon is interesting in many different ways and a trip to there, planned 2 or 200 days in advance, is well worth taking.

You can contact Marc via tamandua911@hotmail.com.

By Ricky Skelton
March 26, 2008

Easter is traditionally a time of chocolate and crucifixion, a strange mix of pagan fertility festival and religious fervour. For me, Easter in Brazil seems to be the time that I head to the dunes and I’d like to make it an annual event after the way the previous two have been. Jericoacoara, a crucifixion, a full moon and sunrise last time, Garopaba this.

The area is possibly Brazil’s surf capital, and Easter weekend is full of surfers, girls who surf, girls looking for surfers, and guys who don’t surf trying to catch the girls looking for surfers instead of catching waves. I stayed out of all that nonsense, avoiding the busy waves by pretending that I can do it anytime at home. I will though, one day.

The dunes at Garopaba (strictly behind Praia Siri but who’s counting) are more fun and could well be one of the best bargains in the whole of Brazil. R$5 to hire a board for as long as you want to play in the dunes, or you could even turn up for free entertainment. Even then, the slog up the tallest dune is worth it for the view along the coast to the southern end of Florianopolis, never mind the people crawling up and falling down it all day. Unlike the seriousness of surfing individuals, the comedy of sandboarding can be enjoyed by everyone. Laughter rings around the sand hills, with people of all ages bursting out as their friends set off down the slopes, spray up sand and then roll through it like a salsicha in farofa. Sometimes the body stops but the board slides gently to the bottom for extra comedy value. The laughter makes you turn to look every time to see at least the end of falls like this. Refreshing too to see parents giggling inanely as their children cartwheel down slopes using their little heads as points of balance for brief periods.

My particular favourite was one guy that I should have followed for the whole day. The skills required for snowboarding and sandboarding are a little different to surfing. The balance should be on the front foot, with the back foot for direction control. The surfers tend to crouch as low as possible towards the back, raising the board at the front and leaving them with no control. My friend seemed to have no fear at all and set off down the slopes before veering, sticking the edge of his board in the sand and tumbling down in a cloud of arms, legs, hair and board. Undeterred, he was up and off for another 10 metres before Id even wiped the tears away. He somehow managed the feat of knocking himself over with his board, one foot coming out of the strap and the board smacking him on the back as he tried to stop running down the hill.

I wasnt much better though, truth be told. The girls seemed to pay their R$5 to have something to sit on at the top of the dunes, watching as I paddled my way down the hill on a plank that didnt turn, trying to crack a dune that did. My ribs came closer to cracking and the sun was setting so I collected my board from the bottom and climbed back up. I couldnt understand what the girls found so funny, my falls didnt seem that spectacular, but I probably will when Im still finding sand deep in my ears next Easter. See you in Joaquina for more of the same then.

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

Previous articles by Ricky:

Understanding Brazil: Funerals
Brazil: Bernie the Berne
Around Brazil: Journey to the Amazon Jungle
Around Brazil: Crazy Town Ceremonies
Around Brazil: Crazy Town
Around Brazil: Manaus
Around Brazil: Santarem & Alter do Chao
Around Brazil: Amazon Swarms and Amazon Storms
Understanding Brazil: Playing Pool
Around Brazil: Gurup
Around South America: Peninsula Valdes
Around South America: Patagonia
Around South America: Montevideo, Uruguay
Around Brazil: The Amazon
Around South America: Bariloche, Argentina
Understanding Gringoes: Drinking
The Great Brazilian Fruit-Off Part 2
The Great Brazilian Fruit-Off Part 1
Understanding Brazil: The Kids
Brazil v Argentina: Buying Beer
Understanding Brazil: Mosquitoes
Around Brazil: São Luis
Teaching English in Brazil
Around Brazil: Lenois Maranhenses
Understanding Brazil: The National Anthem
Around Brazil: Barreirinhas
Around Brazil: Jericoacoara to Barreirinhas
Understanding Brazil: Shopping Centres
Around Brazil: Jericoacoara
Around Brazil: Chapada da Diamantina/Lenois
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?

Can’t make this up