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South America: Brazil

A Snapshot of Brazil

by Matt Thomas

Brazil made quite a pleasant change from Bolivia. Everything works, it’s clean, it’s expensive and the people are indeed the most aesthetically pleasing on the planet.

My first stop on a whirlwind (ish) ten day tour around just three cities was Sao Paulo. Sao Paulo is an absolute monster at 17 million people, a true megopolis. I had only three nights and two full days here so time was of the essence. The place to stay is the Bohemian, artistic neighbourhood of Vila Madalena, home to an abundance of cool cafes, bars and nightclubs. The vibe is young, arty and vibrant to say the least.

My first stop as a lover of football, and it has to be said, musuems was the football museum. I was like a kid in a sweet shop. Even if you are not enamoured with the beautiful game the hi-tech features and variety of exhibits should provide something for everyone and as it’s free you have nothing to lose. Moving onto the town centre by the metro system, now in English thanks to the World Cup, the Pinacoteca Art Gallery is outstanding, the most eye catching exhibit being a series small matresses bound together with maps of random places around the world adourning them. I finished off the day with every other tourist and teenage girl in the city at graffiti alley in the Vila Madelena ara, which is a fine example of edgy, brilliant and beautiful South American street art.

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Graffiti Alley

For a chilled Sunday, Ibropuera Park is perfect with games of football, basketball and volleyball going on. It is also home to a skatepark, runnning and cycle tracks as well as numerous free musuems. The pick is the excellent Afro Brasilian Musuem which houses slave tools and paintings, African art, traditonal clothing and gives an insight into the South American slave trade.

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Ibropuera Park

Ouro Preto is a charming colonial town in the mountains, about an eleven hour bus journey from Sao Paolo. Multiple churches, castles and mansions are dotted around this tourist friendly hillside town, set around a main square. Much like Popayan in Colombia or Sucre in Bolivia, there are multiple churches, museums and sights to visit which are located conveniantly close together. A little tip here, if there is a music playing in a restaurant, check the menu carefully to see if you are expected to pay for this, as not all waiters will be as understanding as the one who kindly let me off the £7 extra charge. As I mentioned, Brazil is not cheap. A highlight of Ouro Preto is watching the sunset down the valley from the back of church to the North of the main sqaure, very peaceful and beautiful. 

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Ouro Preto

It is true what they say about Rio. The favelas are in surprisingly close proximity to, for a example, a five star hotel. Forty metres would be a fair estimate in one instance that I noticed on the bus journey from Ouro Preto ( about fourteen hours). Chose your hostel carefully I would say here. This one tried to put me on the top of a 3 person bunk, which apparently do exist.

I am sure Rio in the sun is absolutely stunning, however it rained both of the full days that I was here. I took the highly touristified cable car up to the much vaunted Cristo Redento but this was basically pointless as one could barely make the statue out from more than twenty metres away, let alone see down to the bay for any “breathtaking panoramic views.” Getting around is simple enough via the metro system (again in English). Lonely Planey certainly does the Copacabana Beach area  a diservice as to paraphrase slightly it advises, ” do not go here at night, you will die!”. Slight exaggeration but I thought I would risk death and see what the fuss was about. Seeing a few locals having dinner and drinks amounted to the danger of the experience.

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Rio City Streets

It is strange what some people think is acceptable attire in a hostel, as I walked into the room to find a Brazilian standing around in his tiny pants. Similarly, I was woken up at I think about 4 am with someone shining a torch in my face but telling me to go back to sleep. My second full day in Rio started at the famous Escadera, a decorated staircase, which takes some finding, where people have left their personalised tiles down the year. The sight has developed since its inception and is now an absolute must for any trip to Rio. Only really a photograph can do it justice. My final stop were the gorgeously well kept Botanical Gardens. A tranquil and fitting peaceful end to the day.

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La Escadera

True to form it was still pouring down as I attempted to leave Rio for the marathon 22 hour bus journey up to Foz de Iguacu waterfalls. They are better viewed from Argentina but certainly worth a trip from the Brazil side as well. Having only breezed around three places in this vast country for 10 days, I don’t feel that I can draw any all embracing conclusions about Brazil. Suffice to say that it is traveller friendly, hostels are good, and buses and local transport is reliable. The people are beautiful and friendly enough, and it is certainly a worthwhile addition to any trip to South America.

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Botanical Gardens, Rio.