Tag Archives: Amazon

Listen to Brazilian birds

Bearded bellbird
Bearded bellbird

Bird lovers will be delighted by this selection of audio archives of Brazilian birds voices, produced by the Ministry of the Environment. It includes recordings of the bearded bellbird (Procnias averano), the hyacinthine macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus), the capuchinbird (Perissocephalus tricolor), the red-legged seriema (Caiama cristata), the duet of laughing falcons (Herpetotheres cachinnans), the mealy parrot (Amazona farinosa), the red-billed toucan (Ranzphastos tucanus)and dozens of other birds.

Pay special attention to the amazing range and variety of sounds produced by the  Lawrence’s thrush (Turdus lawrenci), that imitates the songs of several other species. Also, pay a visit to the recording of the voice of the organ wren (Cyphorhirus arada) , or uirapuru, as it is called in Portuguese, inspired by a Tupi-Guarani word. Found in most of the Amazon basin, he is famous for his long and melodic style, similar to a flute. The uirapuru always sings in the early morning, for a few days per year.


Earthquakes in Brazil

Compared to some of his neighboring countries, Brazil is practically immune to natural disasters. All Brazilians volcanoes have been extinct for several million years (more about that here). As far as registers go, the country never witnessed a hurricane, although a first cyclone, dubbed Catarina, killed a few people and destroyed 1,500 houses in 2004. Floods are the only recurrent natural drama and produce several deaths every year, but they cannot be attributed to an unexpected amount of rain. Most of the losses are associated to the inadequate occupation of mountains and river banks, plus government neglect.

Even earthquakes are discreet if compared to those registered in another country of South America, Chile. The reason is simple. Earthquakes normally occur in the borders of the tectonic plates, the huge rocks that lay under the surface of the earth. Chile is more exposed because it is on the edge of the South American plate while Brazil is on the middle of the same plate, a much stabler place.

Check this image produced by the US Geological Survey and you will see that Brazil has only a few yellow circles – quakes with almost negligible impact. Continue reading Earthquakes in Brazil

In the Amazon, one new species every three days

Billions of species were never described by Science – but most of them are microorganisms. Discovering a new mammal or bird is considered a rare event. Nevertheless, in the last 10 years, 39 mammals, 16 birds, 55 reptiles, 216 anphibeans, 257 fish and 637 plants were found and described in the Amazon, in one more blatant evidence of the almost infinite biodiversity of this region. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has just published a report of a decade of  Biological research in the basin, home to 10% of all the species of the planet.

A few discoveries were considered particularly relevant. The snake Eunectes beniensis, for instance,was the first new sucuri (a giant boa) identified since the thirties. A new pink porpoise, Inia boliviensis, was the first in its genus identified since 1830.  Check some of their pictures.

Brazilian volcanoes

Trindande and Martim Vaz Archipel

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. Continue reading Brazilian volcanoes

Brazilian Babel

Baré indians in the Cuieiras river, in the Amazon/photo by Daniel Zanini

by Sylvia Estrella*

You may be under the impression – like most people – that Portuguese is the only language spoken in Brazil. In fact, 0.5% of the population (around 750,000 people) are native speakers of 200 other languages, including the indigenous ones.
According to Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), a non-profit that has the best statistics on the country’s native population, the 225 remaining Brazilian ethnic groups speak 180 different languages. A few Native groups abandoned their original languages and embraced other languages, such as Portuguese and French Creole (spoken in neighboring French Guyana).
Some of the Native languages remain relatively strong and are spoken by over 20,000 people. On the other hand, some are vanishing and are used by less than a couple dozen individuals. Continue reading Brazilian Babel

Paradise still unexplored

Rio in the Twilight Zone

Brazil is still very far from fulfilling its touristic potential. Despite its 7,500 kilometers (4,300 miles) of coast, the Amazon rainforest, the Iguaçú Falls and the cultural riches, the country attracts less attention than it deserves. Last year, only 6.5 million tourists landed in the country. It is huge, if you remember that this number was a meager 1.5 million in 1990. On the other hand, it is nothing if you compare it to the tourism influx of Spain, a particularly coveted destination but also a much smaller country. Spain attracted 52 million foreigners last year – lower than its average, thanks to the global crisis.

According to the Brazilian Tourism Ministry, last year 5.3 billion dollars were spent by foreign tourists in Brazil. This industry is responsible for at least 2 million jobs, a number that could triple if we include informal jobs plus bars and restaurants. Again, this may look good, but note that Brazilian tourists spent 10.89 billion dollars abroad in 2010. So, we are better exporters than importers of tourism. Continue reading Paradise still unexplored

10 Brazilian drinks as cool as caipirinha

Cachaças that are worth a meal

Caipirinha – a mix of sugar cane spirit (cachaça), crushed lime, white sugar and ice – is a big hit among foreigners that visit Brazil. It is pretty much everywhere in the country and many Brazilian families own the special wooden mortar used to prepare the beverage. Caipirinha and its variations, such as caipiroska (with vodka) or saquerinha (with sake), are just a tiny sample of popular Brazilian drinks.

Follow me in the discovery of other national specialties. Most of them carry cachaça (also known as pinga, aguardente de cana, caninha or “a brava“/”the nasty one”):

  1. Batidas – This mix of cachaça, fruit, ice and lots of sugar is a favorite in the kiosks that line the Brazilian coast. You name the fruit – maracujá (passion fruit), coco (coconut), morango (strawberry). In fact, caipirinha is just one more type of batida.
  2. Meia de seda (probably named after pantyhose because it is a girlie drink) – Those with a really sweet tooth can try this mix of 1/3 of gin, 1/3 cacao liqueur (made with the fruit, not cocoa), 1 spoon of sugar and cinnamon (some recipes abolish the gin or substitute it by rum). Sort of old-fashioned, a souvenir of the golden fifties. Continue reading 10 Brazilian drinks as cool as caipirinha

Biopirates attack!

by Sylvia Estrella*

Brazilwood exports, as seen by André Thevet, 1575

Only 12 countries are considered mega-biodiverse, that is, they have 70% of all the species of vertebrates, insects and plants known by Science. Brazil is the leader of this ranking. It is estimated that it has around 150,000 described species, or 13% of all the plants and animals known in the planet. But 90% of this potential is still to be identified.

The Amazon is home of most of these biological resources, with more than 2,500 species of trees. It is also the region with most freshwater fish species –  between 1.4 million and 2.4 million, according to the ecologist Thomas Lewinsohn, from Unicamp (Campinas University).

But the abundance of life in the Amazon and in Brazil as a whole is also an Achilles heel. The great majority of these species are unknown to local scientists. Thus, they are vulnerable to the being patented in the international market by  foreign labs, corporations and research institutes that can patent their genetics in the international market. Continue reading Biopirates attack!

Brazil will pay high price for climate change

Storm over São Paulo/Fabiano (LycoSp)/Flickr

Brazil will lose between US$ 417 billion (in an optimist scenario) and US$ 2 trillion of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per year by 2050 thanks to global warming. This means, in the worst scenario, the GDP might be reduced in 2.3% by the middle of the century. This is one of the scary conclusions of a report just released by several Brazilian universities and the main specialists in climate and agriculture of the country. They worked for two years in a document that evaluates the possible impacts of the raising temperatures and climate instability. “It is like wasting a whole year of growth during the next 40 years”, says the study.

Among their main conclusions:

  • The temperature may rise 8°C (46.4°F) by 2100 in the Amazon region and it may undergo a radical transformation, becoming more like a savanna. The south, the southeast and the east parts of the basin might lose 40% of their forests.
  • The Northeast of the country (including the states of Bahia and Pernambuco) are also very vulnerable. Agriculture and cattle farming will have important losses because of the lack of rains in a region that is already very arid.
  • The hydro power dams – main responsible for the generation of electricity in the country – will be less reliable.
  • Agriculture shouldn’t have major problems in the southern states (including São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande do Sul).
  • Soy, corn and coffee production will have to reduce their cultivated areas (34%, 15% and 18%, respectively), while sugar cane plantations will not decline.
  • When the level of the oceans elevates and the weather gets more violent, the losses along the Brazilian coast should range from US$ 79 billion to US$ 120 billion.

The study stresses that the poorest regions of the country should be the most affected.It also lists a series of measures that could minimize those risks. Among them, incentives to alternative energies and carbon markets; investments in genetically improved plants, adapted to the growing droughts, and in improved irrigation techniques; and coastal management.

Besides the dark conclusions, the study is surprising because of the quality of the organizations involved. From Universidade de São Paulo and Universidade Estadual de Campinas (Unicamp) to the World Bank and a few non-profits, such as the brilliant Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia (Inpa).  It is the final proof that climate change and the environmental matters really are attracting the attention they deserve.

10 wonders of Brazilian cuisine

Brazilian food - tacacá
Selling tacacá in Belém. Photo by Paratur/Wikipedia

You most certainly heard of, or even tasted, churrasco (barbecue) and feijoada (a complex meal that includes a stew of black beans with pork and several side dishes, including rice, collard greans, pealed orange, cassava flour, red pepper sauce and our national distilled beverage, cachaça).

Now, can you tell me what a buchada de bode is? Or pato no tucupi?

Here I list 10 classics, not necessarily easy to digest, but amazing windows to Brazilian culture. The links lead to recipes, whenever possible in English:

  1. Cuscuz – Despite having the same origin as the Moroccan couscous, it looks and tastes way different. In São Paulo, where I come from, it is made with corn flour, olives, tomatoes, eggs, peas, sardines and has the look of a decorated cake.
  2. Barreado – Typical of the coast of the southern state of Paraná, it probably originates from the Portuguese Azores islands. This meat stew served with rice is  prepared in a very peculiar way. It is cooked in a clay pot for around 20 hours – the time needed for the meat fibers to be dissolved in a thick sauce. The pot is layered with banana leaves and its outside is covered with hardened manioc flour paste, in order to avoid the heat to escape. Continue reading 10 wonders of Brazilian cuisine