" Travelling is a
brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that
familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing
is yours except the essential things - air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky -
all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it." Cesare
December 29 - 30 Brasilia
beginning of the Republic of
Brazil, the capital of the country was located in Rio. At first the
senate was housed in one of the old royal palaces. When it came time for Brazil to produce their entry for the
St Louis exhibition, they
chose to make a most unusual offering.
Their country's pavilion consisted of a metal building that to all
practical purposes looked like one of the very durable and ornate stone
structures so popular at the time. What
was unique was that the whole thing was designed, as decreed by law, so it
could be completely disassembled and moved back to Rio
after the exhibition. The senate from
that point used it until the capital was moved to Brasilia.
The building was a huge success at the exhibition, winning the gold
medal and rave reviews from all the newspapers.
So it is rather ironic that it would be declared an eye sore and torn
down in 1974 to make way for a metro station.
Prior to the
late 1950s Brasilia
existed as nothing more than an idea and dream.
Back in 1883 Dom Bosco, a Salesian priest living in Turin,
Italy, had a dream that a
new civilization would someday rise up from the jungles at some location in Brazil between
the 15th and 20th parallels. Yet he was
not the first person to envision such a capital. A Brazilian statesman named Jose Bonifacio
first had this brilliant idea in 1823.
His reasons for moving the capital to such an unlikely location was to
invigorate the inland economy. In 1891
land was set aside for the new capital and then the whole idea just
floundered. Brasilia finally came to fruition in 1955
under the prodding from President Juscelino Kubitschek.
This was a rare opportunity for a nation
to build an entirely new capital from scratch taking into consideration modern
technology and materials. The king
technology at the time was the car and this new city was specifically built for a
population of car drivers. Which meant
nice 4 or 5 lane highways with modern cloverleaf exit ramps. Driving around the city is much like driving
around most US
cities, fairly easy to negotiate and understand. However, it also means that the designers
positioned the main buildings so far apart it's very difficult to visit the
city without the use of a car. If you
attempted to walk you'd be going mile after mile in hot, humid weather or spend
your time waiting forever for buses. It
was definitely worthwhile having a car.
of technology at the time was the airplane.
So the designers included elements of the airplane into their plan. The streets are laid our in the general form
of a plane seen from above. The fuselage
is a long, long green plaza, narrow at each end like a plane, with one-way
streets running the length of each side.
From here block after block spreads out from the middle much like
wings. Government buildings and
monuments are placed along the fuselage and apartments, hotels, and shopping
malls spread out along the wings. Both
blocks and streets have nothing but numbers for names, so uninspiring.
The overall effect reminded us a lot of
the mall in downtown Washington
DC, only on a much larger
scale. What was surprising was that the
long green space was filled mainly with grass and scattered trees. You'd think it'd have gardens, cafes,
monuments, walking paths, shop kiosks, and all kinds of things to make the
space useable or pretty. As it stands
it's more of an impediment to be gotten around.
within the capital all data from the 1950s onwards. With the exception of a few strikingly
unusual examples, a large number of them are simply ugly high rise boxes. Those built in the 60s are particularly
unattractive. They are nothing more than
steel structures covered with little windows that are filled with old air conditioners. More modern buildings are starting to add a
bit more style. But overall it's much
like visiting a modern, rather boring US city with some areas not looking
so nice these days.
in this hodge podge of modernity include the congress hall with its odd,
unsymmetrical dishes, the justice hall, the cathedral, and the Intimarty
building. They're quite distinctive in
design, but as we so often see in 20th century construction, not well executed. The cathedral, for example, has a light airy
interior with wavy swaths of blue, brown, and white stained glass across the
ceiling. Except the glass isn't. It's plastic and is already breaking down. True stained glass should last for ages.
example, the justice hall was built in plain concrete. Concrete may start life looking nice, but it
rapidly disintegrates and stains. It
always seems that just after a few decades concrete structures start to fall
apart. Fixing them is not just a matter
of sandblasting them clean, as you would do for stone or marble. It'd take a lot more work. It just seems that 20th century construction
normally is just not built to last.
It's hard to
say whether or not a visit to Brasilia
is worth the effort for a foreign tourist.
There's not too many places in the world where a 20th century city was
carved out from scratch with a detailed plan in place in advance, which is why
it was placed on UNESCO's list of world heritage sites. Yet, it is a long way from anywhere, difficult
to get around without a car, and just how long does it take to see a few
buildings. This isn't
where the Smithsonian museum can keep you busy for days on end. But if bagging capital cities is one of your
objectives, then you gotta go.
December 30 - January 1 Perinopolis and Goias Velho
rented a car and since we'd driven the 450 miles from Belo
Horizonte to Brasilia,
we had to make sure we got our money's worth.
There's absolutely no chance we will ever make the effort to see
Brasilia or the state of
Goias again, so we had to make sure we saw everything we wanted to see in this
one trip. So we headed out from the
capital to visit a couple small colonial towns.
is located just a couple of hours away and, due to the number of water falls
and rivers nearby, has become a major weekend destination for the young and
affluent of Brasilia. As we quickly discovered the place buzzes
with activity on New Year's Eve. It was
absolutely packed and everyone was partying hard, even at just past noon. We couldn't begin to imagine how it would be
as the evening wore on. If you are
looking for a place to get really drunk on New Year's Eve this is certainly a
place to go.
There are a
few sights to visit, some simple colonial churches that were quite a relief from
the far busier churches we were used to seeing.
Most interesting is the Igreja Matriz NS Rosario. Destroyed by fire, it is now slowly being
rebuilt. The fire took out the entire
center building and the two towers.
Since then the primary structure has been replaced and the contractors
are in the process of replacing the interior.
What's most fun is you can don a hard hat and go on inside to have a
look at the progress. There are a few
displays showing the fire, the post fire structure, some of the structural
tests done in preparation for reconstruction, and photos of progress along the
way. In the end it will become an exact
duplicate of the original colonial building rebuilt using more modern
techniques that, hopefully, will stand the test of time better. It'd be fun to see after completion to see
what a modern recreation of a colonial church looks like. But that's not enough reason for us to make
the journey back.
Perinopolis is also home to probably the
most famous Cavalhada in Brazil. A Cavalhada is a rather unusual 3-day long
pageant celebrating Charlemagne's victory over the Moors back in the Middle
Ages. For 3 days the town of
Perinopolis turns into a
rather fantastical representation of this famous battle. On day 1 a mock battle takes place and the
Moors are summarily defeated. It would
seem rather anticlimactic considering the outcome is always the same. On day 2 the Moors are converted to
Christianity, an occurrence which would take some research to determine whether
this actually happened. It would seem
unlikely since Morocco
is still Muslim. Day 3 consists of
horsemanship contests, which include some tests of skill such as stabbing a
papermache head with a lance as you fly by on your galloping steed. Awards, money, and accolades are given to the
A tiny white
house just a couple blocks from the center of town houses a small 2-room museum
dedicated to this particular pageant.
The enthusiastic woman who inherited the museum from her mother is more
than happy to usher you in, explain the entire affair in very slow Portuguese,
and show you around. In two small rooms
she has about 8 sets of the red (Moor) and blue (Christian) costumes. There are corresponding costumes for the
children's version of the pageant as well.
The kids ride stick horses rather than the real thing. She also has examples of the horse costumes,
various paraphernalia from the horse contests, miniature horsemen, and photos
all around, especially of her two brothers who happen to be regular
We were told
that this same pageant is held at several other locations in Brazil as well as in France,
Spain, and Portugal. The Perinopolis pageant is held in mid
May. Others are held at various times of
year, including September. So it appears
not to be essential to hold it on the battle's actual anniversary. It's even held on the Azores, islands off the
coast of Africa. Since we couldn't see the pageant itself, a
visit to the museum was the next best thing and our host made the entire visit
well worth the R$2 entry.
Since we were
in search of a bit quieter place to spend New Year's Eve, we left Perinopolis
and headed to the city of Goiana
for the night figuring that if there was a midnight "festa" at least
we might be able to find a hotel away from the noise. We couldn't have been more wrong. Early in the morning the sounds of explosions
resounded off the walls and echoed throughout the city. Climbing out of bed to dare a peek out the
window revealed a sight that looked like a scene of war. Flashes of light rose into the sky and smoke
floated across the streets. A scene out
the window of a Baghdad
hotel at the outset of Desert Storm was the first thing that came to mind. At least here the explosions wouldn't do us
any harm. Although something did knock
out the electricity in the hotel for a few hours. It wasn't until well after midnight that the
explosions finally subsided to just a few each hour and we were able to get to
Day was dead quiet, an ideal time to drive through this large city and head for
the second colonial town, Goias. Unlike
Perinopolis, Goias was absolutely the ideal picture of a tranquil small
colonial town. Almost nothing was open
and hardly a sole stirred. Just a few of
us gawking tourists wandered around the empty streets looking for something to
see and do. As usual the churches were
open for visitation and, for a change, did not charge a fee for entry. The museums were closed, all two of
them. Only a couple of shops and
restaurants were operating. There wasn't
much to do other than wandering, but the empty did at least provide a great
opportunity to get street photos sans cars.
We headed for
the great little Pousada Ipe for lunch and had one of the best and most unusual
meals we'd found so far. The restaurant
is found behind a wall on the patio of a small house surrounded by a beautiful
tropical garden. Sunday brunch consists
of an all-you-can eat buffet, a favorite concept in Brazil, with Goias
specialties. Tasty pieces of chicken and
beef marinated in rich sauces, rice, beans, potatoes, salads, and sweetened
cashew fruit deserts were more than enough to fill the tummy beyond
meal did come with an odd surprise. A
local fruit called a piki (phonetic spelling only) has to be eaten with extreme
care. As I munched down I soon felt
strange prickles in my mouth and on my fingers.
This odd fruit is filled with small spines, sort of like the tuna of
beavertail cactus of the desert except the spines are in the fruit rather than
outside. Staff at the restaurant was
well prepared for my reaction as they came rushing out with tweezers and
alcohol in hand. Obviously this must
happen a lot. I gave up on the idea of
getting the thorns out. They were in my
tongue, lips, upper pallet, and fingers. Too many, too difficult to see, and
too hard to get at. They worked their
out eventually. In the meantime, you can
have the piki. We'll stick to fruit less
dangerous to eat.
street we stopped in at the Dominican church, Igreja NS Rosario, and had a
pleasant chat with one of the monastery acolytes who, as we discovered, found
piki just as uncomfortable a fruit as we did.
We just had to ask him about the strange speed signs we'd seen and
passed all along the highway. Signs will
warn "fiscalizacao electronico".
Posted speed limits will suddenly drop from 110 kph to 60 or 40. Then on the sides of the roads are posts that
display in flashing red numbers your speed.
In the US we've seen
electronic speed indicators before, but these are just informative. There's no penalty for going too fast. We've also seen electronic traps for catching
people running red lights. These do
result in tickets if you're caught. But
this was the first time we'd seen the same tactic used to give speeding
At first we
weren't sure what they did or whether there was any enforcement. However, we did notice that people tended to
slow down well below the posted speed.
So after a while we figured there must be some punishment for going too
fast. Otherwise why would everyone slow
down so well. After passing one 40-kph
spot at 44 kph, we decided we'd better follow the lead of everyone else and
slow down way more than required. But,
what about that one 44 kph zone. We
worried about it for weeks afterward wondering if sometime a traffic fine would
magically appear on our credit card. We
also finally noticed that there were some speed traps that did not indicate any
speed. Speed traps incognito you may
say. Did any of these catch us?
So we asked
this fellow if there might be any flexibility in the speed. What happens if you go through a 40-kph zone
at 41, 43, 45, 49? He told us that there
is some flexibility. He knows people
who've gone through at 45 and weren't caught.
Also, we should know if we were ticketed, as there would be a bright
flash as the photo is taken. That we did
not recall happening. From that point on
we were very careful about going super slow through these speed traps and just
hoped we weren't caught in any of the previous.
It seems the rental car agency should give folks some warning, as this
was quite a novel thing for us to see.
January 2 - 5 Diamantina
Once upon a
time, a few billion years ago, South America was attached to Africa,
reminders of which are found in the common geology of the two continents. For instance, the hills located a few hundred
km northeast of Belo Horizonte were once filled
with precious stones that trace their origins to the diamond rich regions of Africa. When South America floated westward, the diamond deposits were
split and two regions bearing diamonds of similar characteristics wound up half
a world apart. Ironically during
colonial times the Portuguese imported another valuable African resource to
extract these runaway diamonds, slaves.
Diamantina is a pretty colonial town founded in
these isolated mountains after the discovery of the diamond deposits in the
1720s. It turns out that these diamonds
were mostly of industrial quality and for a while this small region was
responsible for providing a large percentage of the world industrial
diamonds. However, before too long the
diamond mines played out and better pickings were discovered in the current
diamond rich regions of Africa. Diamantina
then faded into obscurity, all of which served to preserve the town in a near
perfect colonial state.
To get there you have to head north along
the main highway out of Belo Horizonte
for about an hour. Turn right and head
into the treeless hills for about another 4 hours and you'll come to this very
remote, little visited old colonial town.
As pretty as all the other colonial towns in the
State, it's the setting
that really sets this particular location apart. The entire old town spills down the side of a
canyon to a small river at the bottom and treeless, rugged hills climb up from
the other side. It is filled with roads
paved with flat stones that have been rubbed smooth after centuries of
use. Street after street within the old
town is lined with the typical short white buildings with colorful wood lintel
windows and doors. Several churches
create highlight points that emphasize the rest of the town.
The views of
this uniquely located Brazilian colonial town are what we came to see. So we treated ourselves to a room in 1960s
hotel designed by the famous architect Oscar Neimeyer. Oscar Neimeyer may have been responsible for
creating some very unusual and creative buildings, but sometimes he seemed to
impose his modern style into places where they really shouldn't have been. A 1960s architect's idea of a 21st century
building really should not have been built in the middle of this 1600 and 1700s
colonial town. It looks odd and out of
of the hotel, however, are quite nice.
It has absolutely enormous rooms with patios that have fantastic views
over the town, into the valley, and to the hills beyond. Although the huge hallways on the second
floor echo with every footstep and the unfinished flooring give it a rather
rustic appearance. Strangely we were
reminded of a rough ski lodge and half expected to see skis, poles, and boots
piled up in every corner. Yet despite
being an anomaly, the views from the hotel were well worth the extra expense. We spent hours on the patio watching the
As with all
these colonial towns, the list of things to visit consists of several churches
and one or two museums. There's just
barely enough to keep a couple of energetic tourists busy for one day. The Museu de Diamantina has a great display
of odds and ends and signs that give an unusually good explanation, unusual for
South America that is. For example, instead of pointing out a statue
of a particular saint, there would be an explanation of where in Europe that
saint is revered when the idols came to Brazil,
and where in Brazil
they were popular. They talked about the
history of the typewriter and that Remington's first design had only capital
letters. Also that the sewing machine
could not be perfected until a needle with a hole at the point was invented.
Since most of
the diamonds were extracted using African slaves, there had to be a display
about slavery in the museum. This
display included iron shackles and other sinister looking torture devices. Above the iron shackles a sign tells of how
they estimate that 120,000 slaves were shipped from Africa
each year and only about 80,000 to 90,000 survived the trip. They were shipped
in chains, attached one to the other, in absolutely appalling conditions. With the Portuguese, Spanish, French, and
English taking so many people away from the continent of Africa, they estimate
that over 4 million people were shipped over the hundreds of years that New World slavery was in effect. It's just amazing that there was anybody left
in Africa at all.
We were able
to glean bits and pieces of interesting information from the signs in this
small museum, which added a lot to our appreciation of it. But, it sure would have been nice if the
signs had been in English.
near Diamantina there is a flat rock road that
leads out of town and into the hills. It
was the original route taken by the wagons from Diamantina
to Paraty on the coast. This road was
hacked out of the hills by tens of thousands of those African slaves shipped
over in those horrible iron shackles.
Supposedly the road starts just 2 km by foot outside from the town
center. A nice easy stroll. Finding the road, on the other hand, is anything
but easy. We started by following the
arrow shown in our guidebook. After
about 2-km hiking we concluded that this arrow was not only shown on the wrong
side of the town, it was pointed 180 degrees off. So much for that direction.
around we now followed the directions listed in the book text. This worked for about one block. After that it listed streets that were not
signed. All three maps we had were
essentially useless outside the immediate area of the town center. They weren't to scale and did not show names
for the streets that weren't signed anyway.
Asking people for directions was useless. The locals don't know what the Camino dos
Escravos is or where it may be found.
After a few km walking up and down different streets we once again
turned around and headed back to the city center.
the last sign posted on a lamppost that pointed in the direction of the Camino
dos Escravos, we followed its directions which did not agree with either the
map or text in our book. After following
that for a couple km we found ourselves back wandering the streets we'd already
wandered through. There were no further
directional signs to be found.
couple hours fruitless wandering we finally gave up. We concluded that the old slave road was
probably located some 5 km further out of town via the normal roads, as listed
on the tourist brochure. The 2 km foot
distance must be some hidden short cut that only the right local resident, if
you can find him or her, can direct you to.
Disappointed as we were, it was too hot and humid to spend any more time
hunting. Instead we returned to the streets
around the cathedral and looked for something more pleasant to do than hunt for
that elusive road.
some of the local restaurants take over the streets by moving tables onto the
flat rock slabs in the middle of the road.
Surprisingly, traffic is not stopped and just barely enough space is
left between tables for cars to pass single file. Fortunately there isn't a whole lot of car
traffic, but just imagine coming down one of these steep narrow streets only to
find your way blocked by a bunch of tables.
Back up? Ha! That was someone else's problem. We took over one of these tables, ordered
some drinks, and spent our last few hours in this quiet town enjoying the
relative peace. After this it's back to
the big city life.
January 6, 7 Belo Horizonte
car to the Belo Horizonte
international airport was a small adventure in itself. Out on the main highways and even in the
country it's fairly easy to find your way.
Signage is actually pretty good.
However, once in a town driving becomes far more complicated. Intersections that, on the map, appear to
meet at a 90-degree angle in the middle of a town actually don't meet at
all. Instead you have to keep your eyes
open for these makeshift signs that list the next town you are looking for and
then follow these through some of the most obscure back streets until you
finally come out headed out of town on the correct road. It's not at all obvious.
condition of Brazilian highways can also be amazingly awful. So bad, in fact, it was a major topic for the
nightly news. Nearly every day there was
a story in the newspaper or on the television where truckers and drivers
complained about the potholes. Even one
news channel had a technical discussion of how potholes are formed and how they
increase in size over time. It was the
hot topic of the month when we visited.
Many of the
roads we drove were abysmal and this is not just small back road either. The main road leading from
Horizonte to Brasilia
is supposed to be one of their major coast-to-capital highways. Yet today it's just a 2-lane road showing
signs of extreme wear. Another major
road we drove between Uberlandia and
Belo Horizonte was so bad
there were sections that were just mud, worse than a dirt road. Potholes that could swallow car, tires and
all, were everywhere. Cars and trucks
swerved back and forth across the road in attempts to miss holes. Traffic jams happened, in the middle of
nowhere, where trucks come to a stop waiting for cars in the other direction to
get through the only place in the entire width of road that could be
passed. Speeds of at most 30 kph were
common. We'd never seen anything quite
like it on a major highway before.
truckers may be complaining to the government about the road conditions, but we
also noticed that the truckers themselves carry some of the blame. Many of the trucks are way, way
overloaded. In particular farm trucks
loaded with bags filled with who knows what were loaded so high they looked as
though they were in danger of tipping over.
These roads were most certainly not built for that weight. We noticed that roads that had little or no
truck traffic had almost no potholes.
Too many trucks, too heavy trucks, and roads not built for the traffic
can only lead to one thing, bad roads.
Back on a
much better road headed toward the Belo
Horizonte international airport to return the rental
car, we were once again having trouble finding our way. We'd come in from the north rather than from
the city, so it was a direction that most travelers wouldn't take. But, you would think there'd be big signs
over the top of the roadway indicating the airport exit for both
directions. Not so.
We got around
the city of Sete Lagoas
easily. A relatively new perimeter road
allowed us to avoid it all together. The
road then passed directly into and out of the next two towns without the usual
zigzagging through back streets and signs continued to direct us to the
airport. Soon we were on a 4-lane
highway and a sign indicated the airport was in 27 km. We thought we were home free. There was another sign at 12 km. And then ....
Nothing. No more signs, or at
least none we could read. The vegetation
on the sides of the roads had grown up so much the signs were covered. We went on and on, convinced we'd gone way
more than 12 km. Finally we turned
around and headed back north.
harder, we spotted one grass-covered sign that appeared to point not to the
airport, but to the town of Confins,
which is near the airport. So on a hunch
we took the off ramp. No sooner had we
turned onto the new highway than we finally spotted a sign pointing to the
airport. Unbelievable there was no sign
pointing to the airport on the main highway, just on this access road. Brazilian road signage just is not up to par
that's for sure.
Even when we
got to the airport there was no sign indicating where rental car return was
located. We found buildings for Localiza
and Lokamig rental cars, but no Avis.
After driving around the airport a few times we finally pulled up to the
departure building to ask. There it
was. In front of the terminal is a small
Avis sign sitting by the sidewalk. This
is where you both pick-up and return cars.
Not at all clear. No wonder
people are always getting lost driving around Brazil. You almost need to know where you are going
in advance. Which is not a particularly
easy thing for a visitor to do.
January 7 - 12 Salvador
Tome De Souza
founded Salvador da Bahia in 1549 when he was ordered by the Portuguese crown
to establish the first capital of Brazil. He landed at the Praia Porto da Barra with a
contingent of 400 soldiers and 400 settlers, which included priests and
prostitutes. Within the first year a
small town of mud brick houses surrounded by a defensive wall had been
established on the cliffs overlooking the beach.
For the next
300 years Salvador remained Brazil's most
important city and capital. Its source
of wealth shifted from sugarcane to tobacco and then gold and diamonds. Slaves were imported to the city in enormous
numbers making it a main center for the black culture of Brazil even
into modern times. It was as famed for
its gold-filled churches, many mansions, and festivals as it was for its
rowdiness, decadence, and sensuality.
things must come to an end and so did Salvador's
good times. Gradually the importance of
the city went into decline as sugarcane production declined. Its fate as a has-been city appeared to have
been sealed when, in 1763, the capital was moved to Rio. Through most of the 19th and 20th centuries
the city stagnated as a result of inefficient and ineffective agricultural
practices. However, recently
Salvador is seeing a
renewal brought on by new industries such as oil, chemicals, and most importantly
tourism. The entire old section has been
declared a UNESCO world heritage site and, consequently, much needed funds for
renovation projects are pouring into the city.
Everywhere you turn there are construction projects underway.
Salvador is the heart of the Brazilian music and
dance culture. Many of the former slaves
remained living in and around the city after obtaining freedom. Consequently, the city has a high mix of
blacks and a high mix of African culture.
This is where you can find the Condomble, an African spiritual dance
that has been molded to the Brazilian cultural.
In this dance the main spiritual leader goes into a trance where she
shivers and shakes as she communes with the spirits gaining all sorts of
advice, assistance, and perhaps a premonition or two as well.
of the Condomble are called Orixas and are actually sort of a family. In the manner of the old Greek gods, each
spirit has its own unique specialty, war, water, forestry, etc. Colors, clothing, hand utensils, and most
importantly beads are all specifically defined for each spirit. During different festas dedicated to a
particular spirit, dancers will dress as the particular Orixa being honored. The spiritual leader will go into her trance,
shiver, shake, and good advice will come to all. That's the real simplified version. The real ceremony is far more complicated.
There is also
the capoeira, which is a form of martial art dance imported from Africa as well. In
this spectacle the men make kung fu kicking motions that whiz past their
partner's head at an all too uncomfortably close distance. Novice dancers go real slow. The very best whip their legs by so fast you
have to wonder how often their partner gets a good knocking. The professionals are well worth watching.
Salvador also prides itself as the center for
Brazilian music. At almost any time of
day you can hear drums banging, singers singing, and instruments playing. Turn around a corner and you'll run head long
into a band, all in costume, giving some impromptu performance. Old town Salvador is certainly an entertaining place.
The city is
actually separated into two distinct sectors divided by that original seaside
cliff, cidade alta and baixa (upper and lower cities). Looking at drawings made at the very
beginnings, it's easy to distinguish the coastal cliffs, which gave the city
this split personality. The drawings
show a port area hugging a thin coastal strip.
Four or five curving roads bordered by small houses extend up the
easiest routes to the upper plateau. A
hand cranked cable car built by the Franciscan monks for transporting goods
from port to city is also shown. The
city center with the major churches, seat of government, shops, and residential
areas is spread out along this upper plateau within easy sight of the ocean.
population of over 2 million, today's Salvador
has expanded well beyond those humble beginnings. High-rise buildings spread northward along
the beaches for miles upon miles.
Southbound, major port facilities spread as far as the eye can see. Inland, more high-rise apartments and the
ever-present favelas extend to the horizon.
Only a small area, the area covered by that original old town shown in
the drawings of old, is really of interest to us tourists. The rest is just a normal, busy modern city.
Most of the original structures of cidade
baixa area down by the water were either replaced in the 1800s or by modern
20th century glass and concrete boxes.
Consequently there's not that much of interest with the possible
exception of the craft market and the ferry terminal. At the ferry terminal you can take a quick,
short hop over to the Ilha de Itaparica.
It has a very small community and a lot of laid back beaches lined with
thatch covered bars and restaurants. We
headed over there one morning for a nice day away from the hustle and bustle of
the big city.
Cidade alta has the most interesting
things to see. This is where the best
remains of the colonial city grandeur are to be found, although, the buildings
do not seem to be from a single time period.
There is an eclectic mix of 17 to 20th century architecture. Even within a string of obviously old
colonial residences it looks like many of the houses come from very different
times. The earliest houses are quite
simple. They are one or two storied
white stucco structures with plain square doors and windows with very little
adornment with the exception of contrast paint.
Later buildings add decoration to the roof, doors, and windows. The newer the building, the more extravagant
the decorations. At least that's the
impression we had.
Some of the colonial sector has been
nicely restored. But there are
significant areas where the buildings are a mix of nicely restored structures
and dilapidated buildings much in need of TLC.
Cidade alta's designation as a UNEXCO world heritage site is fairly
recent. Such a designation usually comes
with funding aimed toward restoration and tourist development. Some of that has funneled into
Salvador, but much more
work is needed. Someday, with luck, the
entire colonial sector will be restored to its original splendor. However, this may detract a bit from the real
charm and turn it into a bit of an artificial tourist town.
tourists flood into the city and all along the northern beaches throughout the
busy summer season. To our chagrin we
discovered that those reasonable hotel prices we'd been finding up in Minas
Gerais and Goias were nowhere to be had.
Wandering around the Porto do Barro
region for over an hour we discovered that anything costing less than around
$40 USD was a real dump. Everything in
the $50 to $60 range was booked solid.
Even the $70 range hotels were mostly booked.
got ourselves a room for around $72 in what is a nice hotel, but one that is
much more expensive than what we were used to paying. It was summer and just about everyone who
could travel was now somewhere along the beach.
Hotels were full, beaches were packed, restaurants mobbed. We'd be dealing with this from
Salvador to Recife. Hopefully once we started flying and got away
from the beaches once again prices would drop and crowds abate.
planned 5-night stay in Salvador,
it did not take us too long to figure out how to get around and where to go. One quick bus ride took us to Praca da Se in
the center of old town. From there
cobblestone streets beckoned. We
wandered through the streets, stopping at churches and small museums along the
been Portugal's capital of
the New World, the wealth associated with a
governing seat is still seen in the splendor of its churches. Beautiful carvings covered in gold leaf adorn
the most elaborate of all Brazil's
old churches, the Igreja do Sao Fransisco.
Even the interior of the light blue painted slave's church has some
intricate carvings. You simply cannot go
without stopping to admire at least a few of these colonial masterpieces.
If you are looking for native dress,
Salvador is just about the only place in Brazil where
you'll find it. Female African slaves
brought with them a form of dressing that today is called the bianna. It consisted of a highly gathered skirt that
is calf or ankle length, a white short sleeve shirt, a rectangular cloth held
over one shoulder and belted at the waist, and finally nearly 8 meters of
wrapped material piled high on the head.
Many of the dresses worn by the most famous Brazilian singer and movie
star, Carmen Miranda, were based on the biana.
biana style has been exaggerated to include extreme colors, lots of lace, tons
of beaded necklaces and bracelets, gigantic hoop skirts, and highly stylized
hats. You cannot pass through the main
plaza without being approached by at least one or two women dressed in this
fashion can be found waltzing around the Praca da Se looking to have their
picture taken, for a fee of course. We
found just as fine photo opportunities at the nearby memorial to the biana,
which were free.
plaza is the center of tourist activity.
Tourist stores and restaurants abound.
Amateur capoeira dancers display their talent and ask for tips. Men clean out coconut shells to build the
unique string instrument that they subsequently sell in great numbers. Activity abounds throughout the day and well
into the night. It is definitely a
lively place to be.
things to do in Salvador
is not at all difficult. There are even
a few museums to visit. A well-done Afro
Brazilian museum explores some of the unique aspects the African slaves brought
to Brazil. In particular it shows and explains much
about the Orixas, giving each a personality, color, dress, family relationship
within the orixa group, etc. A brochure
with English translations of most of the signs was a huge help.
small archeological museum in the basement of the same building had some
interesting pottery, woodcrafts, and feather pieces. But without much explanation Portuguese or
otherwise, we were pretty much reduced to looking at the artifacts for their
design and style.
museum to visit was the Museu da Cidade.
Housed in one of the nicely restored colonial buildings, it was a treat
to visit the inside of the building as much as it was to see the museum. It had a strange collection of paintings as
well as full life size representations of the Orixa in full regalia. One unusual display included a hanging
montage of wax exvotives from the famous Igreja Bonfim. It is accredited with producing many
miraculous cures for those who leave behind these strange wax figures. These exvotives are representations of legs,
feet, arms, hands, heads, boobs, penises, and virtually every imaginable body
part. We actually went to the church and
saw photos of some of the ills people were hoping to have cured. Many included things that would cure no
matter what; i.e. broken legs, which seems a little like cheating in the
We did have
to go see the Bale Folclorico. They are Brazil's only
professional folkloric dance team and have done tours all around the
world. Dance team members practice 8
hours a day to put on four 1-hour shows per week plus special engagements. They perform a candomble, a fire dance with
real fire nearly setting the curtains aflame, and a capoeira as well as a few
other dances. When you watch the
capoeira you can see why it requires the full 8 hours practice and why the men
in the performance look so slim and muscular.
It takes a lot of strength. We
also got to see how a professional actually plays that odd instrument made from
a stick and coconut shell. It's hard to
believe such a simple looking instrument can be made to produce such a range of
sounds. It was a good show and seeing it
in Brazil is probably a
whole lot cheaper than seeing the same show anywhere in the U.S.
After days of wandering around
Salvador city proper, we
spent one final day just wandering up and down the beach. Although it's not that easy. Coming directly from the higher, cooler, and
dryer inland areas this Salvador
region felt oppressively hot and humid.
With the sun beating down each day, temperatures rising into the 90s,
and relative humidity probably up around 90% it was enough just to find a spot
in the shade and sit. We literally did
not feel like doing anything. We did
manage to walk all the way around the beach and back, with lots of shade stops
along the way. With plans to get even
closer to the equator, w had to wonder just how much hotter it would be.
For our last
night in Salvador
we stood at the window of our hotel and watched the beach. With one room change we'd managed to get one
of the ocean side rooms on the 7th floor near the ocean side corner of the
hotel. It wasn't a head on ocean view,
but it was good enough. We spent hours
watching bathers, waves, boats, walkers, and all sorts of activity go on
below. This would prove to be the best
view along the beach that we'd get. So
we were determined to make the most of it.
January 13 - 16 Aracaju and
the coast is sort of what we were doing.
We were making our way up to Recife
in with 2 stops along the way. With time
to spare and little to do along the way, there was not much need to hurry. So after a 5-hour bus ride we unloaded at the
medium size city of Aracaju.
Salvador the land seems to flatten and the landscape dries. It starts to look much more like southern
California in the dry
season than it does the tropics. Aside
for a few small rather poor looking villages, there isn't much to see. In fact, you might say it's a rather boring
trip. The road doesn't even track beside
the ocean so there aren't pretty blue ocean waves to watch either. After about 5 hours we were more than ready
to get off.
Aracaju is a rather nondescript coastal town of
around 500,000 that became the state capital in 1855. It has some of its old colonial character
left in the main downtown area with a line of modern high-rise condos strung
southward. Downtown is a sleepy affair
whose shops and restaurants shut tight almost as soon as the sun sets. Downtown is so deserted at night we were
warned not to wander after dark. Too
many criminals and too few cops. So we
restricted nighttime travel to just getting back to our hotel. South of town across the very polluted river
is a beach area that is the main hopping place at night. It's got upscale restaurants and hotels. Normal folks would choose to stay at the
beach. But, since we were only staying 2
nights we stayed downtown.
As its name
seems to pride itself as being the capital for cashew growing. Caju is the Portuguese word for cashew. It's got a cashew statue at the entrance to
the park area and another near the yacht club.
Phone booths and trashcans are all made to look like oversized cashew
fruits. Vendors sell all sorts of cashew
souvenirs; key chains to pencil holders made of wood to look like cashew
fruit. You can get almost anything
cashew in form that you can think of.
has to be one of the strangest looking fruits; even stranger than the star
fruit which is plenty odd. In the US we only see the
cashew nut, never the fruit. So it came
as quite a surprise to see what the fruit actually looks like. Picture, if you will, a small yellow or red
pepper. One that is about 3 inches in
length and 1 1/2 inches in diameter at it's widest point. Now put a very large cashew on the larger end
sticking straight out. The other end of
the cashew fruit is attached to some sort of vine. It is absolutely weird. We had always thought that cashews grew on
trees like walnuts or underground like peanuts.
It never occurred to us that they would come attached to a fruit and
that there would be only one nut per fruit.
So that explains why cashews are so expensive. In Brazil the fruit is often made into
a tasty juice or ice cream. But it's
still only the nut that we ever see in the U.S. Too bad.
walking up and down the beach about the only other thing to do in
Aracaju is to visit the
small aquarium. This small but
interesting aquarium is run by the Tarmar project. Initiated back in the 1980s, this is a Brazil wide
effort to save the sea turtle from extinction.
They've undertaken a wide range of activities including building several
aquariums to educate people on the sea turtle, survey and protect turtle
nesting areas, convert local turtle fishing activities to other means for
economic gain, and a major turtle hatching effort. The turtle-hatching project has been so
successful that in 2003 they hatched and released over 3 million baby turtles. If you want you can get involved with the
release program. You get your own tiny
baby turtle to place in the sand and then direct toward the water. Just watch those little flippers spin.
Aracaju and another 5-hour bus ride through more
nondescript country we arrived at the beach town of Maceio.
Our main purpose for coming to Maceio
was to cut an 11-hour bus ride into a more manageable 5 1/2-hour ride. There really wasn't much of interest to see
in Maceio other
than the beaches.
as the sun was setting, the first thing we did was get on the right bus heading
in the wrong direction. The instructions
we got from the tourist office gave us the name of the bus headed to the
beach. What we did not realize was these
buses do not go in a circle. They have
"ida" and "volta" (coming
and going) directions. We were supposed
to be on the ida bus but wound up on the volta
bus. Fortunately the woman who sits in
the chair by the usual turnstile, this time in the center of the bus, allowed
us to get back on a second time in the correct direction for free. At least we were finding that the bus drivers
and moneychangers are extremely helpful.
Back in the
correct direction, by the bus station for a second time, we snaked our way
through town around unknown streets through some mighty rough looking neighborhoods. Finally we arrived at the beach area to begin
a difficult search for a hotel. This is
the high rent district and with it being summer season and the
Maceio beach evidently a major summer tourist
attraction, finding a hotel room proved to be mighty scarce.
Had we known that finding a hotel in
Maceio would be so difficult we may have considered just
going onto Recife
despite the long bus ride. In the dark
with high temperatures and equally high humidity causing a continual flow of
sweat down our backs we searched from hotel to hotel to hotel. Our original destination, the Ibis, was full
for this night but available the next.
Every other hotel with the exception of the over priced Hotel Paraiso
next door was also full. When the rain
started coming down, with around 10 hotels checked, we finally checked into the
Paraiso for one night and made a reservation in the Ibis for the next. This was not a great start to our one-day
stay in Maceio.
morning we could not check into the Ibis until noon which meant we wound up
spending most of the morning just waiting to change rooms. We decided there and then to avoid further
hotel problems in Recife
by making an internet reservation. Even
as we scoured the web for inexpensive options we watched as one after another
hotel suddenly disappeared. So we
grabbed the least expensive option we could find, swallowed the $20 US
hotel-booking fee, and called it a day.
tourist thing we got to do in Maceio was to
visit one small Museu da Gente, which has just a few folkloric type items, and
walk along the long, long beach. We never got into the downtown area where the
bits and pieces of Maceio's
former colonial era remain. This
business with booked hotels along the beaches was beginning to get on our
nerves. Time to get away to less crowded