Category Archives: Travel

The dreamy, sexy sculptures of Brennand

Photo by Valdiney Pimenta/ Flickr

Ceramist Francisco Brennand is probably the greatest Brazilian sculptor in activity. Inspired by the works of Pablo Picasso, Joán Miró and Fernand Léger, that he met during his studies in Paris, he developed a style that mixes surrealism and anatomy, fertility goddesses and tribal totems.

The best place to see his production is his personal museum, Oficina Brennand, in Recife. It is installed in the old ceramic tile factory built by his father in 1917 and displays not only thousand of pieces of his art but also a garden conceived by great landscape artist Roberto Burle Marx. The New York Times just wrote about it.

Photo by Graham Stanley/ Flickr

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The other life of Franca, the Brazilian shoe capital

The city of Franca is famous for its huge shoe industry.  Over 1.000 factories are responsible for the biggest shoe production of all Latin America. But this big city (330,000 people), on the border of the states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais, still keeps lots of its traditions, here shown by the amazing pictures by Tiago Brandão, a  local photographic reporter.

The Passion of Christ enacted during last Easter in the São Judas Tadeu church

Continue reading The other life of Franca, the Brazilian shoe capital

9 favelas of Rio shown by their residents

Photo by bekbek75/ Flickr
Photo by bekbek75/ Flickr

Nowhere in Rio you get a better view of the coast and the gorgeous geography than from the top of the favelas. These shantytowns have been included in city tours for a while, in part because of their strategical location,in  part because of their music tradition, or because of their mystique. The favela reality is frequently misunderstood both by those who dream of this mystique and those who equal these environment to a drug-infested mob-headquarter. Neither is accurate, of course.

This wonderful series of videos can offer a vision closer to reality. They interview and follow residents of 9 favelas cariocas while they show their houses, the little bars and soccer fields, the landscape and daily lives.

Enjoy the tour:

1 – Santa Marta – this video, produced by Pedro Serra, with subtitles in English, introduces the favela where Michael Jackson made the 1996 “They Don’t Care About Us” video clip.

Continue reading 9 favelas of Rio shown by their residents

Practical tips for driving in Brazil

This and the other photos in this post were taken by Raf Kiss.
by Raf Kiss, from Brazil Road Trips*

Brazil is a huge and fantastic country, and the best way to discover it is by car or motorcycle. Of course, when you’re used to driving in Europe or the US, you will quickly notice a number of differences. In this post, I would like to give some practical information and pointers about driving in Brazil. In my opinion, driving in Brazil can be divided into a number of different conditions :

  • big cities like Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo.
  • major highways.
  • smaller back roads.
  • tracks and dirt roads.

The “rules” (I don’t mean “the law”) vary according to which situation you’re in, but one thing that almost always applies is: who has the bigger vehicle, has the upper hand. Don’t expect people to stop and give way, even if you have priority (like on a roundabout). Don’t expect people to use indicators when they turn left or right. Don’t be surprised to see cars and even trucks driving at night without lights. Big cities – traffic jams: in the big cities you will almost always end up in a traffic jam. Rio de Janeiro but especially São Paulo are notorious for the hectic traffic. The already complicated situation is often made worse by accidents, broken down vehicles or storms (flooding). there are also hundreds of motorcycles (125 – 250cc) making their way through the rows of cars, honking their horns and switching lanes, often at considerable speeds, so be very careful in traffic jams and check your mirrors before changing lanes.

The BR116 between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. One of the best highways in brazil. Also one of the most expensive

Major highways: These are usually in good condition and especially the toll roads are equipped with a well-functioning tow service (free of charge). In case of an accident or engine problems, you will get towed to the next gas station. One of the best highways in Brazil (also the most expensive in terms of toll) is the BR116 (the Dutra) between Rio and São Paulo. São Paulo is the state with the densest road network. a quick look at the road map of Brazil and you see this very easily. The condition of vehicles (cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles…) goes from excellent to literally falling apart… I’ve seen cars with doors missing, or pieces being held together with a piece of rope. You also see lots of cars with completely bald tires. Some vehicles you see here wouldn’t last 10 minutes on the road in Europe. I don’t want to scare anyone, because a road trip in Brazil can be an extremely rewarding experience. It’s just that with the right information, you can avoid bad situations or at least avoid getting frustrated by the undisciplined or even reckless behavior of other road users. Here are five practical hints and recommendations for anyone who wants to venture out on the road in this amazing country.

Worst kind of dirt road. Better stay away when it rains
1 – Road conditions and signalization

As in most countries, road conditions in Brazil can vary a great deal. As a general rule, the roads in the south and south-east regions are in much better shape than those up north. When you cross the state border between Espírito Santo and Bahia, the BR101 suddenly changes from a double two lane highway with perfect asphalt into a secondary road with potholes and no hard shoulders. No better example of the economical differences between the South-east and the North-east of Brazil. Independent from the location, heavy rains can wreak havoc, causing land slides, wash away part of the road surface or leave impassable mud holes. Holes in the road: Sometimes water can wash away the earth under the asphalt and eventually part of the pavement will cave in and a hole will appear in the road… people usually “mark” these places with a leafy tree branch. So when you see something that looks like there’s a tree growing out of the asphalt, there’s probably a deep hole in the road. Needless to say that this kind of “signalization” is very hard to spot in the dark…

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Maquiné, the cradle of Brazilian paleonthology

Paleontology was introduced in the country by Danish naturalist Peter Wilhelm Lund, that arrived in the country in the 1820s. In the following decades, he visited at least 200 caves in the region of Minas Gerais and described over a hundred species, most of them extinct, such as the saber tooth tiger. Two of his exploits were particularly important: he identified human vestiges of an individual that lived 12,000 years ago, later named Homem de Lagoa Santa, that obviously coexisted with extinct animals; and he described the beauties of one of the greatest caves in the country, Maquiné. But Lund also diligently sent all his finds to Copenhagen and published his works exclusively in Danish – it took almost one  century for them to be published in Portuguese.

Lund explored Maquiné cave in 1834, where he found human remnants and petrified animals. It is an amazing speleological complex in Cordisburgo, 120 kilometers from the capital of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte. It has seven huge rooms, connected by hallways – in total,  it has a depth of 18 meters depth and an extension of 650 meters. For millennia the water sculpted the calcium carbonate, producing formats that remind you of bats, bears, candelabra, a huge wedding cake and the atomic mushroom. You can also find a few 6,000 old wall paintings. It has nice pathways and good artificial lighting that allow very easy access. Continue reading Maquiné, the cradle of Brazilian paleonthology

Be virtually teletransported to Brazil

You miss Brazil and need some images to feed your nostalgia – but you think that postcards simply don’t show the reality? I have the perfect entertainment for you: Globe Genie, a project that allows you to choose a continent to “visit” and shows randomly picked 360 degree images from Google Maps. If you choose South America, you will certainly be sent to small streets and roads of the Southern Brazilian states. I used it for a while and I was never once sent to Colombia, Argentina or even other parts of Brazil.

It was conceived by Joe McMichael, a grad student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the MIT, and it is quite awesome.

Brazil essentials: 18 Unesco World Heritage sites you must visit

Ouro Preto by Marcelo Costa/ Flickr
Ouro Preto by Marcelo Costa/ Flickr

You decided to make a list of all the absolutely must-see Brazilian sites – but don’t know how to begin it? Here is a great starting point.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization declared 18 Brazilian places of outstanding historic or environmental value UNESCO World Heritage sites. They are a precious guide for those who want to discover the country’s riches. I have visited most of them and couldn’t agree more with the selection.

See below the full list and the UNESCO’s justification for its choices:

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

 

Continue reading Brazil essentials: 18 Unesco World Heritage sites you must visit

The most beautiful Brazilian waterfalls

Véu da Noiva/ The bride's veil, in Chapada dos Guimarães, Mato Grosso state, by Jeff Belmonte/Flickr

One of the divine experiences of traveling along the Brazilian lands is the surprise appearance of little waterfalls along the road. You stop the car, dive into the shower, fill your bottle and go back to the car, dripping, in bliss.

Here is a selection of images of Brazilian waterfalls for your delight. But first, check the list with the 12 most beautiful cachoeiras, according to Guia Quatro Rodas, a tourism guide that is the bible of the country’s tourists. Continue reading The most beautiful Brazilian waterfalls

Cerrado – the other biodiversity wonder

Serra do Cipó, in Minas Gerais. Photo by Jay Woodworth/Flickr

 

Cerrado, the Brazilian equivalent of African savanna and Australian outback, is frequently despised. Its trees are small, dry, and the soil is acidic and poor, in contrast with the flamboyance of the Amazonian and the Atlantic rainforest. But don’t be fooled  by its discretion. It is home to one out of every 20 species of plants and animals in the planet, including ant eaters, macaws, armadillos, jaguars, guará wolves and gorgeous plants, such as bromeliads, cacti and buriti palm trees. In the Cerrado area that surrounds the country’s capital, Brasília, scientists identified 1,000 species of butterflies and 500 species of bees and wasps, plus 90 different termites.

Frequent droughts and natural fires are unable to destroy the cerrado‘s trees. Their thick barks and the huge roots help them keep the water and the nutrients for months, if needed. Continue reading Cerrado – the other biodiversity wonder

Easter in Nova Jerusalém

TV actors Thiago Lacerda and Floriano Peixoto as Jesus and Pilatus. Photo by Karla Vidal/Flickr
TV actors Thiago Lacerda and Floriano Peixoto as Jesus and Pilatus. Photo by Karla Vidal/Flickr

Since the sixties, the small town of Brejo de Deus, in the dry lands of the state of Pernambuco, promotes an Easter presentation depicting the passion of Christ that became (according to its organizers) the largest outdoor show in the world. The town incorporated the spirit of the original Jerusalem and built 4 meter (13 feet) tall ramparts and towers. Today, the comunity, rebaptized as Nova Jerusalém (New Jerusalem), receives around 80,000 visitors every year for an event that is considered an example of efficient organization. The audience moves from stage to stage – nine in total, from Herodes palace to the Golgotha – to watch the 550 actors and extras, plus all sorts of animals, in action. The technical crew is composed of 400 professionals.

It is maybe kitsch, but also unique and a great source of income for a region where there is little water and economy. At least 3 million people visited Brejo de Deus since the first shows, leaving money for the small hotels, shops, restaurants and street vendors.

Have a glimpse of the atmosphere at Nova Jerusalém these days thanks to this (poor quality  home video):