Tuesday, February 27, 2007

One night in Brazilia--

What a day! First off, I got up at 4:30 am because the driver from a travel agency was supposed to pick me up at 5:30 and drive me to the Salvador Airport in order to catch a 7:30 flight (lasting 2 hours) to Brazilia. But the driver was 50 minutes late, and I only got to the airport at 6:45. Then, I learned that the flight was overbooked Three other passengers and I were left in the lurch, but because the other 3 spoke Portuguese, they were assisted first. In fact, all day, I've had a terrible time making myself understood--very few of the staff ofTAM, the Brazilian airline I've been flying on, speak Spanish or English. I finally was able to explain how I had only 10 hours in Brazilia to visit the city and then take a night plane to Manaos, since I´m beginning my Amazon Village stay and excursions tomorrow. There was no other direct flight to Brazilia today, so they said they´d fly me to Rio, then to Brazilia. But the plane to Rio was an hour late, and then the connecting plane from Rio to Brazilia was almost 3 hours late, so by the time I got to Brazilia it was 4:30 in the afternoon, instead of 9:30 in the morning. Finally, TAM agreed to put me up for a night in a hotel near the airport and fly me to Manaos tomorrow morning. Still wanting to visit Brazilia, I paid a taxi driver to take me from the hotel near the airport into the central part, and he gave me a 2-hour "City Tour".
To be frank, I think Brazilia ressembles one of the French "villes nouvelles", such as Evry or Cergy-Pontoise. Designed by Oscar Neimeyer in the late 50s, to my mind, it hasn't aged very well. The President's palace is impressive, perhaps because of its location on a lake with lots of grass around, but many of the buildings on the Esplanade (designed in the shape of an airplane) might have been futuristic at the time, but now look like "deja vu". I guess I'm glad I saw it, and that getting here was worth it, but I must say I'm a bit disappointed. Will post some photos once I have a computer with a USB hook-up.
As I said, Salvador was great, and I´m looking forward to the Amazon tomorrow. Back to Buenos Aires from there on March 2. Now off to bed after a very long day!

Monday, February 26, 2007

This is the Largo de Prelinho (sp), one of the two main squares in the historic old town of Salvador de Bahia. Notice how steep it is and the cobblestone streets. Apparently, this was where slaves were auctioned off in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The Church of the Rosary in the foreground on the right is referred to by the locals as the black people`s church. Next to the big church on the hill in the background is a former convent, now a 5-star hotel, which has a lovely cloister inside.

This beach was absolutely lovely for swimming.

beach near Prate de Forte where we spent two hours. The sand is actually much whiter than this. The water was lovely and warm. It stays about 26 degrees C. all year round.

just next to the sea turtle site on Prata de Forte

the sea turtle educational and ecological site on the beach of Prate de Forte (sp), north of Salvador

An albino sea turtle!

Today I took a day excursion to the beaches north of Salvador. We first visited a sea turtle ecological and educational site. This is one of the thirty turtles in captivity. Apparently, in the world, there are 7 species of sea turtles. 5 of them are present in Brazil, with 4 of them found on the Bahian coast.

This is part of the exhibition of the Afro-Brazilian Museum on the Praca de Se which I visited yesterday.

Everywhere in the old town of the city you see African influence--black art, black hairstylists doing braiding or haircutting, black ladies in huge colonial skirts, black young men doing a type of break dancing. Last night, I attended a folklore music and dance show at a theater on the Largo de Prelinho (sp). Young black dancers beat the drums and danced in beautiful costumes, telling of black people`s history, especially when they got to Brazil. After the show, I went upstairs to the Senac culinary school, where, for $14 I ate from a delicious buffet and tasted about 20 different main-course dishes, followed by about 10 desserts, many of them using exotic fruit. Lots of bananas, too. The building also houses a Museum of (local) Gastronomy. I`m really glad I found this place. It was so much more authentic than the tourist shows the travel agencies were proposing at vast expense.

This is a view taken from a window of the Jesuit college below the Cathedral, which is on the Prace de Se, one of the main squares in the historical part of the city of Salvador. The old part of the city is divided into the lower city and the upper city. To get from one to the other, there is a huge elevator or you can take a funny yellow funicular. There are also many suburbs located along the beaches and inland. Salvador is Brazil`s third largest city.

Everywhere in the old part of Salvador de Bahia (locals call it Bahia), you see and hear people playing drums.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Overview of part of the Rocinha favela, which we were told is the largest favela in Latin America. We walked part-way up to the top and were allowed to go on a roof of a building in order to take this photo.

Our guide Luiza looking down at Rocinha with ultra chic neighborhood and beach in the background. She lives in Rocinha and has been a guide for the last 8 years. She learned English and Spanish, plus some history and geography, at the Rocinha Sustainable Tourism Workshop. I really enjoyed her tour. It was lively and a very honest presentation of the situation in Rocinha.

Panel describing the Tourism Workshop, where Luiza learned to be a guide from founder Rejane Reis. Rejane picked me up at my hotel and drove me with 6 other participants (all girls from London!) to Rochina, where we met Luiza.
Rejane teaches tourism at the university and runs a small travel agency, which includes Voodoo and Carnaval tours. But the tours of the favelas and the Tourism Workshop for 36 favela inhabitants is a non-profit activity she got involved in 15 years ago. I found her very inspirational and told her I would encourage people to take the tour. For further information, go to www.favelatourismworkshop.com.

Some of the kids at the local nursery school having lunch. This particular school is paying and is used as a community center as well. This is where the Tourism Workshop takes place, where there are literacy classes, and where women work with recycled materials (bottle caps, newspapers, plastic bags, etc.) to make handicrafts that are often sold to markets.

Little kids brushing their teeth at the nursery school. Just before this, we saw their teacher distributing toothbrushes. It must be a real cultural thing to brush your teeth after every meal in South America. I remember when I was at an academic conference in NYC, all the South American participants went to the restrooms after lunch to brush their teeth!

These guys posed for me! Luiza told us over 300 have jobs taking local residents up the hills to their homes in Rocinha.

World Cup sign on one of the walls. Apparently, people in Rocinha were heart-broken Brazil lost.

just part of the vista of Rio from the ferry

As the museums were still closed yesterday for Carnaval week, after my walking tour of Centro, I took the ferry across the bay to the Niteroi part of Rio. The ferry´s like the Staten Island one and only costs $1.50 each way. Gorgeous views!

inside of the cathedral

The ultra modern Rio Cathedral. I saw this on my walking tour of the Centro yesterday.

The hotel where I´m staying. There are actually quite a few rooms, as it covers two floors and is very long and narrow. Only $25 a night, including tax and breakfast. Very modest, but clean and a great location, as the metro and many buses are just down the street. I can also walk to many places, including the lovely Museum of the Republic and the Folkloric Museum on Catete street.

This is my neighborhood in Catete. Notice the colonial type buildings. I´ve got my Internet cafe, where I mix with the locals and some foreign backpackers. Also have my local restaurants, shops, even a cinema. I did go to see Babel last night and it really was a Babel for me, since in addition to all the different languages in the film, the subtitles were all in Portuguese! I think I got the gist of it, though, and very much enjoyed it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Jesus Saves parade last night in the streets of the Catate district of Rio where I´m staying. Evangelicals, I suppose. I saw this as I stepped out of the restaurant, where I had a delicious T-bone steak dinner. Their red meat is just as good as that in Argentina. There´s a multiplex cinema in the same street, so tonight I plan to go and see Babel. And today, I´m doing the walking tour of the Centro and going to visit some museums. This part of town has a very different atmosphere than the beaches of Cocacabana and Ipanema.

Before I took the gondolas up to the top

View from the very top

Here I am up-top

Rio seen from half-way up the Sugar Loaf

clear day for seeing the Christ

little monkeys in trees atop the Sugar Loaf

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Hello Again from Rio

Tonight is the last night of Carnaval. There are block parties, parades and lots of people in the streets. the day, Shrove Tuesday, was again a national holiday, so people flocked to the beaches. It´s about 32 degrees, with clear blue skies. As for me, the only thing I did today was go to the top of Sugar Loaf mountain in the Urca part of Rio. You take two cable cars to get up, and the viewis truly stupendous. I spent about an hour up there taking photos and relaxing under the trees. Photos to follow later.
After an unfortunate (to say the least) incident with Bill and Oscar last night, I decided to move to a hotel. I´m now in the Catete area of Rio. It´s close to downtown, quite far from Cocacabana and Ipanema beaches, and totally different. This seems much more like the REAL Rio--very family-ish and lively, and I feel quite safe. Reminds me a bit of the popular area of Saigon where I stayed back in October. No one speaks English or Spanish, but I converse in Spanish nevertheless and they seem to understand me.
Tomorrow, I plan to do a walking tour of downtown and visit some museums. Then on Thursday, my last day, I´m going to take a tour of a favela. It should be interesting, but I hope it isn´t too voyeuristic. It´s funny how here rich and poor live in the same vicinity. Such contrasts!
I leave Friday morning for Salvadore de Bahia and then on to the Amazon from there. After that, back to Buenos Aires, then down to Pantagonia, and then back home to Paris on March 21.
Bye for now.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Last night I attended the Carnaval celebration of the Samba schools at the Sambadromo--a long street-like stadium with bleachers on each side. this is what I paid $300 to attend. The price included transportation by bus to and from the Sambadromo. We got there at 7 and it didn´t start till 9 PM, so by 1 am I was exhausted and left, having only seen 3 of the 6 schools that were presenting last night. It goes on again tonight, and by Tuesday or Wednesday, the judges choose which group will be in the finals nest Saturday. The floats and costumes are absolutely magnificent, and each samba school enters between 2000-3000 participants, who dance, sing, play instruments, etc. as their floats go down the long street. The judges were in a bleacher across from mine. I have tons of photos but only have time to post a few here. Words cannot really describe how colorful everything was.

celebrating Carnaval at lunch: Dort, Bill, Heloise, Nelyca and Regina

Stephanie and Robin´s pool and pon

ride up into the mountains on Sunday to visit Bill and Dort´s friends, Robin and Stephanie, who own a house an hour and a half away from Rio

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sorry, I forgot to turn this photo before downloading it. As I was walking back to Bill´s apartment from the Ipanema parade, I saw another street parade on its way to Cocacabana Beach. At many of the fashionable hotels along the shore, such as the Cocacabana Palace, there are costume balls this evening that last all night. Bill took me to see the ballroom of the latter this morning and asked the price: $400 a person. Lots of food and champagne and beautiful decorations. The theme of this year´s Carnaval is Spain.

This by-stander was doing a great samba.

some participants in the Ipanema parade, which was mostly of gays and transvestites, this afternoon.

sunset on Ipanema beach. There was an article recently in the NY TImes saying Rio´s beaches aren´t democratic. They are, esp. at Carnaval. The Brazilians are very mixed racially. The majority of people swimming with me today were dark-skinned. I tried out both beaches. The waves are higher at Ipanema, which means big waves in an Indian language. It´s easier to swim at Cocacabana, but, as Bill warned me, the water is not as clean.

photo of Bill´s apartment taken from Fort Aproador between Cocacabana and Ipanema beaches. His building is the fmall one on the left. He has the dupleix penthouse on the tenth floor.

Oscar bought me these decorations to wear for the street parade downtown, which was the first big one of the Rio carnaval. I went there by metro with Oscar. Bill and Oscar advised me not to take a camera or a purse, since there were mobs of people, so I have no photos. There were three floats and lots of samba dancing and beer-drinking. Very colorful. I only stayed 2 hours. Oscar stayed most of the day.

Bill´s Brazilian partner Oscar in one of the costumes he bought this year for a Carnaval street parade

Saturday, February 17, 2007

a great view of Rio, which, unfortunately, I didn´t see because of the fog.

this is what the view is like from corcovado when it isn´t foggy

Unfortunately, what christ the redeemer looked like in the fog

cable car ride through rain forest up to top of Corcovado