Brasil, officially the Federative Republic of Brasil, is the largest country in both South America and the Latin American region. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical
area and by population.
The country's economy is the world's seventh largest by both nominal GDP and purchasing power parity, as of 2012. A member of the BRIC group, Brasil until 2010 had one of the world's fastest growing major economies, with its economic reforms giving the country new international recognition and influence.
São Paulo, home to some 20 million people, is also home to my wife's family.
It is known as a financial and economic centre of Brasil, and is both a city and a state.
We have visited the city and the local area on a number of occasions, most recently in 2013.
This picture was taken from the roof of the apartment where we were staying.
Considering Brazil is covered largely by Amazonian jungle, rain forest, and much impenetrable tropical flora, it may come as a surprise to some to learn that Brazil doesn't have many large
animals. What is has in abundance though, is feet. Or more precisely creatures with more than two feet.
It is therefore to my utter disbelief and dismay how often I see domestic animals abandoned or neglected. This isn't to suggest all Brazilians don't care for animals, quite the contrary. There are some who have opened their homes and hearts to so many cat and dogs for example, particularly the most desperate ones. But it is the shear number of stray cats and dogs in poor health wandering the streets that often puts a tear in my otherwise dry eye. Just today on the drive up to Paraty (RJ) we saw four stray dogs and at least one cat on the roads, two of which were without the use of one of their back legs. Tragic.
That said, I am a hypocrite when it comes to bugs. Anything with more limbs than me doesn't deserve to live if it come within swatting distance. It is not that I'm scared of bugs, but anything small enough to eat, defecate and regurgitate into my skin has no good reason to live, particularly if it leaves me or my wife itching all night.
I did have a certain respect for a mantis (correct me if I'm wrong) the other day. I saw it sitting on the wooden decking in our hotel, minding its business when I nearly stood on it. I realised what is was, so dashed back to our room to get my camera. I came back and to my amazement it hadn't moved. I crouched down to get a good shot with the camera. It didn't move much, perhaps a slight readjustment of its feet. So I put the camera down on the floor and lay down and put the camera into macro mode to get a close up (or at least as good a shot I could get with my small digital camera. Well I thought I was pushing my luck, thinking it would make a run for it and leap/fly away. Not a bit of it. Quite the contrary. The bloody thing came for the camera! Quite nonchalantly, it trotted towards the lens. I'm not sure if it thought of me as lunch, was a big poser, or just saw a reflection and was coming to investigate. Considering the type of eye mantis tend to have, I'm assuming it just saw movement and was big headed enough to want to investigate!!
Well, needless to say I have a slightly higher level of respect for that insect at least, and a cracking picture to boot.
Even before we arrived in Brazil, I found out that Brazil was unique. Our early flight from the UK meant that we arrived the same day; in fact we arrived around 6pm, meaning we'd arrived at rush
hour. Now, understand that Sao Paulo is busy at the best of times, but in rush hour a 10 minute drive can take hours. In an attempt to reduce the pressure cars are legally required to take
holidays. Each car must take one day off a week during busy periods. In some ways it makes more sense than congestion charges, but it does favour people with two cars.
Unfortunately, my wife's sister's car is taking holiday on the very day we were to arrive. D'Oh!
Therefore we had two choices, to either get a coach ride across town and get a local taxi for the short trip to the house, or get a taxi the whole way. Like in many countries, getting a safe & reliable taxi is something the locals are better equipped for. In the UK, the taxi drivers have "the knowledge", in Brazil, it's the locals!
Thankfully, the taxis in the airport are pretty reliable and safe, but you still need to have your wits about you.
After 50 minutes and about £40 later, and after much weaving through the traffic on the major highways, we arrived at my wife's mother's house.
But that's not the least of things.
There are the fog convoys - something that could easily be adopted in the UK on the busiest roads. When fog descends on the motorways, the police stop the traffic to really bunch up the traffic.
Then after n apparent age, the whole ensemble trots off bumper to bumper at about 15 to 20 miles an hour until the fog clears. If you are unlucky to arrive as the convoy is leaving, you may have
to wait up to 30 minutes for the next convoy. Surprisingly, the Brazilians take this approach well and without much fuss, although you will get some drivers who are exceptionally keen to retain
their manhood and weave through the traffic regardless, not content with getting through the fog unscathed, but must get ahead of everyone else. I think it is just old rush hour habits...
Cars drink alcohol... and petrol
Kitchen sinks don't have hot water.
Coastal restaurants are only open between Thursday and Sunday.
In Portuguese, the days of the week are called market days, but for some reason they start with the second day of market, segunda-feira. Tuesday to Friday follow in the same manner, so Portuguese novices like me have to do maths to work out what day of the week it is. Saturday and Sunday however are more traditional names of the Sabbath and the day of the lord - Sabado & Domingo.
It's Wednesday morning, day 6 of our trip to Brazil, and we are waking up to soft but persistent tropical rain. Last night, while driving back from our trip to the north side of the island to
visit the 'historical centre, I had my first experience of driving in a tropical storm.
I must admit when driving back on the wrong side of the road, in the dark, on an unfamiliar, small winding road, in an alleged but gut-less 1.4 saloon with an exhaust that was blowing, was intimidating. But as it was lashing down with rain, and gale force winds were shaking the palm trees to the point where some of the fronds were blown onto the road in front of us, I must admit to being a little scared. We later found out we'd driven through a gale, where the local ferry was forced to stop after experiencing winds in excess of 38knots.
Still we survived with nothing worse than a drenching when we had to run from our car back to the hotel room.
I woke up at 7 in the morning to be greeted by the same incessant rain, but thankfully no wind.
Now, after breakfast in the rain and worrying what to do with ourselves, the weather changes its mind. the rain is finally easing up and the sun is starting to burn away the clouds. Perhaps it will be another fine, hot, sticky day in the tropics.
So here I am on day six of my honeymoon in Brazil, sitting downstairs in the open air dining area, waiting for breakfast while looking out at the tropical rain that's been coming down all
Normally that would be a bad sign, but right now I'm glad for it. It is a cooling rain, that somehow is relaxing, and reminds me that I'm in a tropical rainforest, and not back home suffering from a drought that I hear is plaguing the east of England right now. Everywhere is green, lush and the unfazed by it all. Just as I type a humming bird flew just a few feet away dipping it's beak into the red flowers of some exotic plant that I don't know the name of.
I'm currently on day three of my stay in Ilhabela, an island 225km south of Rio. This is a holiday island for the well heeled from Sao Paulo and Rio. The small island is about 25km in length with one road on the west side facing the mainland. If you want to go east, you take a boat round!
The road on the island, like much of the mainland, is largely mettlled, but the state of the Tarmac is random, with vicious speed bumps slowing down the traffic on approach to and through the towns, even if the road bypasses the actual town. But that is the least of the driver's problems. Apart from pot holes regularly appearing from blind corners, the driver has to be wary of workmen making/repairing holes in the road. The one good thing (?) are the number of traffic cones you have to negociate is much less than the UK, where we have to queue for hours to be filtered into single lane traffic miles away from the road woks (where no one is actually working). In Brazil, they use, on average, one traffic cone, and they are actually working. The gangs consist of two guys digging, one guy to hold a ladder, a fourth supervising, and only the fifth guy having a cuppa.
Worse still, though, is the traffic. Or more precisely, the drivers. Brazil is a busy and populated country with over 200 million people crammed into the massive cities, particularly Sao Paulo and Rio. As a consequence of over population, a general disregard for rules and Latino hot-headedness, means politeness is not top of their agenda. Cutting in is. As is getting past you, no matter how fast you are driving. If all else fails, they completely ignore the lane markings and squeeze as many cars onto the road as possible. When completely full, they add suicidal pedestrians, and maniac motorbike riders who weave in and out of traffic to complete the experience.
Meanwhile, back on the island watching the rain ease up, I'm contemplating where to go today. With any luck the rain will stop soon, and the clouds will burn away, to reveal another hot, sticky day for us to lounge in.
Throughout my time in in Brazil, somewhere there is a television blaring away, often showing football or soap operas.
Some of the television is actually quite good, but for every good show, there are a hundred that are bad - especially the soaps, that are full of over-acting, shouting, young vivacious women blatantly wearing very little, and being so very.. well.. Latin.
I can't help watching the TV without hearing the Fast Show's wickedly funny take on Latin TV - I'm half expecting to hear cries of "scorchio" on the weather forecast!
To counteract the really bad TV (and there is much to counter act), are the good shows. The one that took my interest was a soap opera. I can't believe I'm admitting to being caught up in a soap opera, not least of all as I don't speak the language, but I was fascinated by the story line, and some genuinely good acting. The thing that seems to be unique to Brazilian TV soaps, and evident with "Avenida Brasil" is that the soap is written with a strong story line that lasts for one year - i.e. the soap itself only lasts one year, but is shown almost every day. This must give the writers more freedom to write better than soap writers back in Blighty.
Perhaps we have something to learn rather than mock about after all.
It is my last full day in Guaruja (a beach resort about an hour's drive from Sao Paulo) before we drive inland and complete the holiday with a series of days with my wife's family. So it's my
last day to enjoy the sights and sounds of the beach.
Every morning, particularly if it's sunny (well of course it would be) and if I've woken up early, I spend an hour walking the beach. The flat we are staying in is literally across the road from the beach, so in no time at all I'm on the beach, sandals off, and wading ankle deep in warm water, with the early morning sun beating down. I'm sharing the huge beach with a number of early risers, including the odd surfer, a number of people jogging, a few fishermen collecting sand worms, and multitude of pensioners taking their constitutional morning walk.
The first time I walked on the beach in Guaruja, I discovered that the sand squeaked as I walked on it. The sand is super fine, almost like dust, and is very soft to walk on, and as a consequence squeaks when you brush your feet on it - very odd.
The sea itself is warm despite it being autumn now, but it is really salty. So salty, I don't t find it a struggle to float in the water. The only drawback of this particular beach is that it is shallow. It is good for surfing, but not for swimming. As a consequence, this beach is as much to be seen as it is to enjoy the beach.
We are leaving at the start of the Easter break, so the beach on our last day is crowded with families who've come down en mass from Sao Paulo. It's also full of the body beautiful. Being recently married and on my honeymoon, I'm somewhat compromised on what I can be caught looking at, but suffice to say there is plenty to look at. Scarily though, many of the potential sights turn out to be anything but close up without sunglasses. However, one thing is clear, Brazilian women have style. There are the exceptions, of course, and those exceptions really should know better.
Before I left England, I was cheekily asked by a colleague to take pictures of some of the infamous Brazilian women and their bikinis. Naturally I'm not taking pictures, as this would be tantamount to suicide, but if I'm caught gazing a little too long at some "boom boom", then I feel justified in claiming it's all in the name of research - one for Gordon, so to speak.