Brazil is a gargantuan country and its enormity hit me within the first few days, as I sailed down the Amazon River, into the depths of the rainforest. With two months left to explore a country over 65 times the size of England, I decided to take a laid-back approach to my trip. I was not going to be able to even scratch the surface, and so best not to rush. After all, I didn’t have a check list of things I needed to do and had nothing to prove to anyone. Liberated from these constraints, I ambled around in a leisurely manner, soaking in the diversity, beauty, and the intense chasm between the rich and poor and all that that entails.
Here are some photos of the seven most outstanding places I had the fortune of exploring.
1. The Amazon
The saying “the jungle is massive” comes to life in the Amazon. It took several weeks of boats, awkward hammock sleeps, rescued kittens, howling monkeys, frisbee on river islands and an excessive amount of fried fish to get to the river’s mouth. I’d like to return, with a friend, and trek into the forest for weeks. If anyone’s up for it, let me know!
2. Alter do Chao/Santarem
Being as I wasn’t travelling with a guide book, and was trusting my intuition and the notes I was gathering in my little black book from the people I met, when Morgane and Max told me about Alter do Chao, I was instantly sold! Alter do Chao is in the middle of the Amazon, and is best known for its white-sanded island called the Ilha Do Amor (Island of Love). I had been carrying my 175gm frisbee around for months now, and was still to play a game. There is a huge lagoon, and the confluence of several rives, that all work together to form this little hidden gem. We arrived there, late at night, with a surfboard and three baby kittens we’d found on the streets of Manaus that we hoped to find a home for. Who knows how they felt, sailing down the river on our tummies as we fed them milk and nurtured them into their lives. The Brazilians thought we were mad!
I have a love/hate relationship with Belém, the gateway to the Amazon River. I arrived early Sunday morning, and checked into the roughest, ugliest guesthouse I have ever experienced. Immediately I met people who had been robbed at gunpoint and mugged the day before. The shops were closed, exposing the crack whores, beggars, alcoholics and poverty of the city. A nun was so concerned about me going to the bus station alone, that she got on the bus and came with me. Wandering around the port, police escorted me out of dangerous streets for fear of what may happen to me. I felt genuinely on the edge. Later, the drunken poor danced around a red Ferrari parked in the city centre banging out tunes. I am not one to succumb to fear, but due to the social schisms resulting from the gaping chasm between the rich and poor, it is a city replete with contradictions and crime. I later learnt that the poor are treated with such disdain and hatred by the authorities, that they are shot dead en masse, and buried in shallow graves. However, on Monday, as the streets filled, and the stench of urine-soaked cardboard homes faded, I felt safe enough to appreciate the city. The bustling port, colonial architecture and panoply of people, sounds and smells softened the blow of the day before.
4. Lençóis Maranhenses National Park
Lençóis is literally one of the most breath-taking places on earth that I have had the fortune of visiting. There is an expanse of white, sweeping sand dunes, which during the rainy season, form green-blue lagoons in which you can swim. If there is one place in the world you should go, then it is definitely here.
5. Minas Gerais
Skipping vast swathes of the country out, I flew to Belo Horizonte to stay with a dear friend. Although the city wasn’t exactly bedazzling, and seemed like it had been thrown together haphazardly and overnight, the state itself is stunning. On my first weekend, we headed into the hills, which were parched from a lack of rain. Eventually, we arrived at our camping spot, where we set up and sipped wine under the stars. We also visited Ouro Preto (Black Gold), an old cobbled town which was central to the gold rush during the dark days of colonialism. Awesome baroque-style churches adorn the cobbled streets, and interestingly, the first church built by slaves for slaves perches on a hill. I am still baffled at how religion and the church, one of the tools central to the exploitation and colonisation of the world, has had such staying power in the former colonies. Any post-colonial experts out there that can give me a theoretical and analytical explanation?
6. Rio de Janeiro
Rio is as vibrant, exciting, dangerous, sexy, exhausting and exasperating as I had anticipated. Staying with friends in Copacabana, I did what I like best in cities, and that was to get as lost as possible, and walk and walk for miles with my camera. It felt like there were at least two cities: the one in which I resided temporarily, where people ate expensive sushi, drank expensive wine, and bought terrible clothing for extortionate prices. Then there was the rest, which were favelas that created confusing mazes, where kites flew, graffiti expressed emotion and a whole different set of laws and allowances dominated. I visited some of the most inspiring museums, Christ the Redeemer and swam in the sea as my 35th year on the planet evolved.
7. The People
The Brazilians inspired me to take life a lot less seriously, to dance more and speak from the heart. I was blessed with kindness; taken care of when I felt down; fed and housed when I got stuck at the end of the world with no access to money; made to feel part of people’s families; thrown around the dance floor by sixty-something Samba experts and hugged by strangers. Thank you Brazil, for reminding me that people can be warm and kind, and to loosen up a little!