If you ask a Brazilian if his country has any volcanoes, he will answer with a very solid no. He will even tell you a very popular joke about that.
Once upon a time, God was showing an angel around the brand new Earth. “This is Indonesia – they will have tsunamis and volcanoes. And this is the US – they will have hurricanes and earthquakes”, he says. The angel points to Brazil: “what about this country?”. God answers that Brazil will have the best weather of the planet, no volcanoes or earthquakes, a real paradise. The angel scratches his halo and asks: “How come everything is so great there?”, to what God answers: “Just wait to see the people I will put there!”
This joke, told whenever a Brazilian is in a self-deprecating mood, reinforces a stereotype that is only partially true. Check the image I chose to open this post. This is Trindade island, a stone wall of volcanic origin off the coast of Espírito Santo state. It’s cliffs are so steep that only crabs and spiders are able to survive there. Many ships that tried to go there sank and the only safe way to reach it is by helicopter. Trindade is the living proof that even if Brazil is safer than the average, it is not 100% immune to natural catastrophes.
In 2004, the country witnessed its first cyclone – Catarina -, that killed a few people in the Southern states of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina. And, believe it or not, Brazil has a few (discreet) volcanoes – including the oldest ever found. None of them active though.
Volcanic activity was very intense in this part of the world until maybe 50 million years ago. It was responsible for some outstanding touristic spots, such as the dark cliffs of Torres beach, in Rio Grande do Sul, or the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha. It also originated the thermal waters of Caldas Novas (in the central state of Goiás), and Poços de Caldas and Araxá (both in the state of Minas Gerais). The source of Caldas Novas is particularly hot. It can reach 45°C (or 113°F) – almost dangerous, if you have a heart condition or high blood pressure. If you need an extremely relaxing experience, that’s the place to visit.
Another byproduct of this ancient volcanic activity is the very fertile terra roxa (literally purple soil, partially responsible for São Paulo state high agricultural productivity).
Extinct volcanoes can also be found in the Amazon Region – including the oldest volcano of the planet. Located close to the Tapajós river, in the Amazonas state, it is 1.89 billion years old but, at this point, almost totally eroded.
If all these extinct volcanoes seem blah to you, remember: Ecuador, neighbor close to the Brazilian states of the Amazon, has eight active volcanoes. One of them, the Tungurahua, has been producing lava steadily since 1999. As the eruption of Eyjafjallajokul, the Icelandic volcano that covered Europe and the North of Africa with ashes demonstrates, even countries that are volcano-free can suffer the consequences of an eruption. So, just in case, let’s keep an eye on Ecuador.